According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans are quitting lower-paying, service-oriented jobs to find higher-paying jobs at historically high rates. Furthermore, Gallup Research shows that most employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged, and are looking for new job opportunities.
In 2021, service workers, in general, started realizing what they’re worth. In 2022, you cannot take skilled maintenance technicians for granted. It’s time to start focusing on technician engagement. Let’s apply the 12 Elements for Employee Engagement from OSHA to property maintenance technicians.
How to Improve On-Site Maintenance Morale
#1: They need to know what’s expected.
Property maintenance technicians need to know what you expect from them daily. They should have a clearly defined list of tasks. They should have enough assignments to keep them busy for their entire workday. To ensure that your techs arrive to work with their service requests in order, you must prepare the night before.
Also, if you have a two-person team working together, and they need to tackle both make readies and regular work orders, then it might help to split the day for them, giving them structure. For example, focus on the make ready tasks before lunch, and the outstanding work orders after lunch. When techs have a clear focus for each part of the day, they’ll work efficiently and with less stress.
#2: People like to have a friend in the workplace.
This is about creating a positive culture for employees. The workplace environment will be defined and exemplified by you, the property manager! Avoid creating management versus maintenance feelings.
One way to stop your workday from being a battlefield is to pick your battles. Remember, with maintenance techs, let them do what keeps them happy, as long as the work gets done and the residents don’t complain. Do they want to work as a two-person team? Great. Do they need a flexible schedule so they can pick up their kids? Fine. Do they prefer a different brand of drills? Okay.
Also, be careful when hiring someone new. Skills can be taught. A good character and solid work ethic can’t be. A bad hire will bring down the morale of everyone, and he most likely won’t be anyone’s friend.
#3: Be concerned with the employee’s development, and give them periodic progress reports.
Ignored employees are disengaged employees. Each maintenance crew member should have clearly defined KPIs, and time to review their numbers with you, at least once every three months.
Some performance indicators that you can outline for them include:
- Average work order completion time
- Work order completion rate
- Average rating from residents
- Callback rate
- Average time to turn a unit
Be realistic and specific with the numbers you give them. If a technician feels that what you want is impossible, then they’ll be discouraged and won’t even try to improve. It’s important to establish a baseline before asking for improvement.
To create baseline measurements and future goals, you need data. It’s essential to have a way of measuring and storing average work order completion times, callback rates, etc. Robust analytics and customized reports are non-negotiable requirements for a property management software solution.
#4: Provide training and opportunities to grow as a technician.
Before sending your technician out for training, you should ask yourself some questions: Which skills does the property need the most? What is the technician interested in learning about? In which area is the technician weakest, and do they want to improve in that area?
There should be some overlap between these points of data. Your maintenance management software should be able to provide you with the following information:
- How many service requests were created per month within each maintenance category?
- What is the completion rate for each category?
- For which category does your technician get the highest resident ratings?
- For which category do they get the lowest?
- For which category do they get the most callbacks?
Once you have the data, then it’s time to talk with your technicians, so you can create personalized training schedules. Try to integrate training into the weekly schedule.
For example, if you have two techs who both struggle with leaking pipes, forcing you to call a third-party plumber all the time, then have them shadow the plumber the next time he comes (assuming the plumber is highly qualified, competent, and willing to train).
Even if you have to pay the plumber for training, you’ll end up saving money when you don’t need his services in the future. The gist of this concept: 1. Find the best in the field; 2. Get hands-on training for your technicians.
#5: Have in stock all the tools and equipment the team needs.
Technicians need to have proper resources to complete their jobs. When technicians don’t have what they need for a job, then the work simply can’t get done. Staying on top of supplies, and ordering them on time, are ultimately your responsibilities as their manager.
Missing equipment is one of the most common complaints made by technicians. This includes delays caused by late deliveries. Currently, at the end of 2021, there is a massive supply chain problem in the USA. Chances are, this problem will continue well into 2022. That means being more diligent than ever when it comes to keeping the shop well stocked.
Checking parts and supplies should be part of your end-of-the-day preparations for the next day. Once you’ve assigned tasks to your technicians, it’s important to make sure they will have what they need to complete those tasks.
Another idea, from an experienced maintenance supervisor, is to purchase dedicated tools for each crew or team member. This reduces friction and infighting, resulting in a more productive and happy team.
#6: Allow them to do what they do best every day.
Success breeds success. Find a way to give technicians the tasks they enjoy and do well. If one technician enjoys painting, then she’ll do a much better job than another technician who hates it.
Also, part of letting employees shine is letting go and letting them do things their way. Avoid micromanagement. Tell them the results you want, and let them achieve those results their way. Your technicians might surprise you with their capacity for ingenuity and creative problem-solving.
Avoid micromanagement. Your technicians might surprise you with their capacity for ingenuity and creative problem-solving.
#7: Give feedback and recognition for a job well done.
Lack of recognition is a major complaint, if not the biggest one, from technicians. A manager needs to celebrate both little and big successes. While verbal praise is important, real celebration comes as a tangible reward.
The crew cut completion times in half with fewer callbacks? Take them out to burgers or get everyone a new Leatherman multi-tool as a gift.
A single technician got a glowing review from a happy resident? Give them a gift card or a six-pack of their favorite beer.
The whole team averaged over 4 stars for the month’s reviews and improved completion times? Go on a coffee and donut run at the end of the week, making sure to get everyone’s favorite.
One technician pushed hard to finish a complex and difficult task? Give them half a day off for wellness and relaxation.
Did the whole team work hard to hand in, on time, all units for this month’s move-ins? Did the residents create zero work orders within the first week after moving in? That sounds like a job done perfectly the first time. A month like that deserves a bonus.
Plus, if the technicians know beforehand that they can earn a bonus and how much that bonus will be, they’ll be motivated to achieve the prerequisite goals.
#8: The technicians should feel that their supervisor genuinely cares and appreciates them.
This is where empathy and active listening come into play.
Is a technician underperforming this month? Before getting upset, it’s worthwhile to see how you can help. Some questions to ask include:
- Do you have all the equipment you need to complete this task?
- Is there an unforeseen complication creating problems with this make ready?
- Do you feel confident about knowing how to fix this?
If technicians trust their manager, then they can be honest when they are lacking the tools or knowledge to complete a job.
Also, sometimes technicians might need just a little empathy. Let them rant about the lady in Unit 101. Listen to them when they talk about problems with their teenager. Sympathize with them when their dog dies. By just offering a listening ear, you’re showing that your care is genuine.
#9: Encourage technicians to improve and develop themselves.
Encouragement comes in many forms. Look for ways of incentivizing and rewarding that don’t cost money. For example:
- Acknowledge a tech’s success in front of the entire staff during a weekly meeting
- Give them verbal appreciation
- Write them a small thank you note, detailing what you appreciate
- Use a maintenance management software that gives badges when reaching goals
By focusing on what technicians are doing right, you provide positive reinforcement for their actions. Recent studies state conclusively: “Positive reinforcement works exceedingly better and faster than punishment.”
Don’t forget that vague, generalized praise comes across as insincere. Pinpoint their accomplishments and call out the details. Instead of “Great job today!”, you can say, “I see you worked for hours cleaning all the grease off the kitchen tiles and cabinets. It looks great.”
When you notice and point out specifics, the technicians will feel that you see what they do, that you appreciate it, and your appreciation will inspire them to keep up the good work.
#10: Make their opinion count.
Is your work order completion rate too low, and you’re not sure how to fix it? Invite everyone to sit down together and start brainstorming. Explain the problem, and see what solutions are suggested.
When someone comes up with a great idea, you can use that idea as a source of praise, for example:
- “Let’s implement Alex’s idea. That could really help.”
- “I think today we need the Alex maneuver.”
- “I want to try out what Alex suggested.”
Every time you use a technician’s idea and attach her name to that idea, she’ll feel a little burst of pride.
#11: Make them feel like they are part of something important.
Turning an apartment can take a tremendous amount of time and energy, depending on the unit and property. While some residents take good care of their units, some don’t. The technician might have to replace outlets and switches, resurface tubs, replace doors and flooring, fix large holes in plasterboard walls, scrub the walls and spackle them before painting, and so on.
A resident who cooks with large amounts of grease and oil might leave a kitchen covered in difficult-to-remove grime. A resident might have had kids who used the walls to express themselves artistically in multiple mediums.
Imagine working hard to fix these units only to see them destroyed again, year after year. Every person wants to feel that the work they do is meaningful. It’s hard for a technician to find meaning in their work when it feels like everything they do gets reverted.
Your maintenance crew is the axis around which your property spins. Make sure they know that. They also need to know that a maintenance team can make or break a property. When you say things like this daily, and back up your words by treating technicians with respect, courtesy, good wages, and benefits, then technicians will start to feel that the overall success of the property is their success too.
#12: It’s important that they feel that every employee, from the top down, is dedicated to quality work.
Actions speak louder than words. Managers who want hard-working, dedicated, and successful employees need to model those ethics. One idea from a veteran property manager is to spend a day working alongside your technicians. Go and help them make a unit ready for a new resident. If you’ve never done this type of work before, it can be a real eye-opening experience.
Another part of this is having reasonable expectations. A boss who expects more than it’s possible to do in one day does not value the quality of a technician’s work. Fast work becomes sloppy work. Sloppy work results in callbacks, complaints, and residents leaving.
According to a recent study in the UK, the average office worker actually puts in three hours of work per day. If your technicians put in a solid 5-6 hours of working on tasks every day, then they are extraordinary. The first hour of a technician’s day might look something like this:
- 9:00 AM: Arrive, greet everyone, hang up your coat or bag, and grab a coffee
- 9:15 AM: Review the days’ tasks with the manager or supervisor
- 9:30 AM: Gather the tools and equipment needed for the days’ tasks.
- 9:50 AM: Head out to the first property of the day, making a pit stop on the way
That’s a whole hour gone, and they haven’t even started the actual maintenance work. Also, this is a serious worker, who isn’t dawdling and wasting time. Add in 30 minutes for lunch, and 30 minutes for short breaks during the day. Now you have 6 hours left for working on tasks.
Plus, how much time does it take for them to travel between units and properties? How congested are the roads? Make sure to include travel time when calculating how much work you expect to get done. How much time does it take to set up for each task? How much time to clean up afterward? How much time does the paperwork for each task take?
When you give technicians the time they need to do a job right, then you have a better chance of them doing it right the first time. Also, it helps to have a property maintenance management app that makes it easy for techs to comment and add notes about their work orders while they’re on-site. A good app for technicians removes the need for paperwork altogether, resulting in happier techs.
Happy Technicians are the Foundation of Success
According to another Gallup study, US businesses lose $1 trillion every year to employee turnover. Your properties cannot succeed if your technicians are disengaged. Happy technicians perform better with fewer mistakes. This increases your residents’ satisfaction, improving retention rates. When managers invest time, energy, and money in technicians, in the long run, they most likely will be getting more than what they gave.