Running a Shop Human Resources

HR Tips That Are Often Ignored, Easy To Follow

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For operators dealing with distributors, inventory, accounting and everything else that keeps business running smoothly, close staff management can sometimes move down on the to-do list, but mistakes could sink an entire operation.

When managers cover their bases in HR, the business avoids legal entanglements and promotes longevity in an industry with a typically short term of employment.

NOLN’s 2018 Fast Lube Operator Survey found that the average length of employment for technicians was just 2.5 years. With a looming talent shortage, that length of tenure must be increased, and following better HR practices is one way to do so.

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, which partners with the Automotive Oil Change Association in recruiting and human resources assistance for fast lube members. She identified some areas that operators and managers often overlook when managing their people.


Solution No. 1: Above-Board Onboarding

Finding the right staff member in a tight labor market is hard enough. Once you’ve identified that person, it’s important to get them set up on the right foot. 

“One of the things that we know is that 22 percent of turnover happens within the first 45 days,” St. John says. “So, getting it right is really important.”

She promotes the use of behavioral tests during the application period. They may reveal more about an applicant than their technical knowledge. Often, there are underlying traits that can make candidates a poor fit in your shop, creating a constant churn for managers.

“Then they get stuck in this cycle of they hire them they train them and they're gone. Repeat,” St. John says.

There are many different kinds of tests. Some can be purchased, and others are done through an HR agency. St. John says it’s important to know that the one you choose is right for the position you’re hiring for and that it’s compliant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Solution No. 2: Keeping it Classified

Once you’ve found the right person for the job, make sure you’ve got them on payroll according to labor laws.

“One of the top mistakes is they tend to not classify their employees correctly,” St. John says.

The Fair Labor Standards Act and the federal government have rules about who can and cannot be exempted from overtime pay. A lot of the time, it’s the staff members who aren’t technicians who are tougher to place within those labor laws.

“In the oil change field, those tend to be the positions who are misclassified,” St. John says. “It tends to be the office staff, administrative staff, and in a larger operation, maybe their accounting staff.”


Solution No. 3: Spreading the Love

Another common mistake that St. John sees is that the underperforming employees get the most attention. When things are humming along just right, it might not be as apparent to offer detailed feedback. Why mess with a good thing?

But St. John says that it should be an important strategy for managers to offer detailed guidance when things are going right.

“They’re very good at corrective feedback,” she says. “But what we know is that everybody wants to know how they're doing and how they could be better.”

Just as underperformers might need some close coaching to reach that next level, good performers should get the same treatment. Let them know what they’re doing right and how to build on it. And take time to make it worthwhile.

“‘Atta boys’ and ‘atta girls’ don’t really do it,” St. John says.


Solution No. 4: Smooth Exits

It’s never a positive experience to let go of an employee. 

It typically happens after a culmination of actions, and while the manager knows every step, St. John says that it’s important that the employee knows, too. A common mistake from an HR standpoint is that performance issues are ignored until it’s too late.

St. John says that conversations about bad performance shouldn’t be put off, because employees shouldn’t be shocked to find out they’re being let go.

“That’s when they sue,” she says. “If you can adhere to a solid progressive discipline system where you're documenting those conversations, they know how they can affect that trajectory.”

Policy manuals should give the manager latitude to skip a step in the process and tailor the system to work best for a staff member, St. John says. 

Those might be difficult conversations, but it gives the employee a better shot at improving. And if not, it makes the next step easier.

“The truth of the matter is when employees see that they’re on a path, and the pathway is out the door, the inevitable end will be better because they saw it coming,” St. John says.

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