Maintenance

Boosting Morale Can Help Improve Operations

Strong leadership and understanding, combined with a little creativity, can help keep productivity and employee morale high when resources are low.

March 2011, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Grace Suizo - Also by this author

A happy staff is a productive staff. Thus, keeping employee morale up should be a high priority for any fleet manager. Public sector fleets, in particular, have been challenged with the task of coming up with creative - and more importantly, inexpensive - ways to ensure team productivity remains high even when budgets are low. Fleet managers from among the top public sector fleets in the country prove it doesn't take much more than strong leadership, effective communication, and a little recognition to keep operations running smoothly.  

 

Leverage the 'Limelight'

No employee in their right mind would probably ever turn down a raise, but it doesn't necessarily mean they need a financial incentive to do their job well.

According to Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the City of Columbus, Ohio, "The most effective people are not really motivated by money. People are motivated by recognition. In other words, get out of your office, go see men on the floor, thank them personally, and let them know how much you appreciate their hard work."

2011 marks the City of Columbus' (Ohio) fourth straight year to earn the ASE Blue Seal. It is the largest Blue Seal municipality in the U.S.
2011 marks the City of Columbus' (Ohio) fourth straight year to earn the ASE Blue Seal. It is the largest Blue Seal municipality in the U.S.

Columbus' fleet staff of 130 (84 of which are technicians) holds more than 475 ASE certifications, 46 Master ASE certifications, 89 EVT certifications, and seven Master EVT certifications. Employees were recognized in the November/December 2010 issue of GF and were paid a visit by the chief of staff and city council members, who shook their hands, expressed their appreciation of the hard work they do for the City, and posed for a group photo.

"We're talking about mechanics on the floor meeting with the chief of staff and the mayor. It's huge. I get more out of that than I do writing them a check for $1,000," Reagan said.

City of Troy, Mich., technicians wear uniforms with patches identifying them as the No. 1 fleet in the 2010 100 Best Fleets program.
City of Troy, Mich., technicians wear uniforms with patches identifying them as the No. 1 fleet in the 2010 100 Best Fleets program.

The City of Troy, Mich., which earned the top spot in the 2010 "100 Best Fleets" program, has also gained recognition from City officials. Once the fleet was recognized as a top fleet, Fleet Superintendent Sam Lamerato bought uniform polo shirts and had them embroidered with the 100 Best Fleet logo on the chests and patches on the sleeves. Decked out in their new shirts, the staff attended a council meeting and was recognized.

"All the people in our fleet who could make it that night marched up to the front, introduced themselves, and shared their number of years of service. The council stood up and applauded them, as well as the audience," Lamerato recalled.

As "icing on the cake," the staff even received a letter from state senators recognizing them as a top fleet. "I made sure each one of those individuals got a copy," Lamerato said.

Paul Condran, equipment maintenance manager at the City of Culver City, Calif., also makes sure his staff gets attention from City leaders. In addition to three paid days off and/or $500, Condran puts the "Employee of the Year" in front of the City Council and the City Civil Service Commission. "I write a nice letter, and the program has been so well received that our HR department has modeled it for other City departments," Condran said. "Employee of the Quarter" is another program in place at Culver City, with the employee receiving one paid day off instead of three. Employee of the Year recipients also have their name engraved on a brass name plate featured on a plaque, with photos of the current winners of the quarter on a display board.

Many fleet employees at Palm Beach County, Fla., have managed to impress leadership outside the shop as well. According to Doug Weichman, director of fleet management, his employees have received as much as $2,500 from the annual Golden Palm Award promoted by the county administrator. The program rewards County employees for innovative ideas, going above and beyond, cost savings, and dedication.

Receiving attention on special days, such as birthdays, is also a pleasant surprise for staff that shouldn't be overlooked. Greetings cards, personalized photos, and even just an announcement on the bulletin board are all simple gestures fleet managers do that help brighten an employee's day and give him or her that extra lift to perform better.

The City of Santa Ana, Calif., recognizes the value of its employees' ideas and encourages feedback through an Innovation Incentive Program.
The City of Santa Ana, Calif., recognizes the value of its employees' ideas and encourages feedback through an Innovation Incentive Program.

'Feed' Their Egos

One of the most popular and relatively simple staff-pleasers cited by fleet managers is food.

"Food is easy. It's always kind of the glue that keeps people together. [A meal] is a good forum to bring people together," said Rick Longobart, facilities and fleet manager for the City of Santa Ana, Calif. At Santa Ana, fleet gets together for a "breakfast with the boss." Supervisor administrative staff brings breakfast food and everyone gets together and discusses a lighthearted issue.

Culver City prefers to do lunch. Condran started a program late last year called "Toss with the Boss." Once a month, he spends two planned lunch hours with his employees. "The idea is you can 'toss it' around with the boss, talk about whatever's on your mind, ask any questions - whether it's work-related or football or family. No good guys, no bad guys...no preconceived notions or ideas. It's an open forum. I've had four meetings now and my lunchroom is packed."

At the end of lunch, employees draw a number from a bag, and winners get a small prize such as a thermos, a hat and T-shirt, or a pen and pencil set. Condran supplies the prizes, which may be gifts he's attained or items he buys. "It's been very successful - something so simple. It keeps me in the view of my staff, and it's good for me, too. And it forces me to make sure I'm on the shop floor with my teams and they get to see me and spend time with me because we're always so busy." 

The City of Moline, Ill.'s fleet also tries to squeeze in time to get together, especially for holidays. Fleet Manager J.D. Schulte gathers the team several times a year to share meals between shifts since oftentimes they only get a few minutes to communicate in passing. "Around the holidays, we'll try to set up a time when we split up what we're going to buy and have a little cookout and get together. We've done Thanksgiving meals in the past. It's just a good way to get together and have everybody socialize and not make every conversation we have about work."

With fleet managers supplying the food, employees get a chance to experience the appreciation first-hand.

The City of Troy does a potluck luncheon and everyone brings their favorite dishes. Lamerato usually brings the main dish. "We talk and we laugh. We talk about the good times and obviously we talk about some of the bad times. You make light of the bad times and you try to think about more of the good times. I think that's important. When you don't have surplus funding, you get creative."

Larry Campbell, fleet manager for the City of Fort Wayne, Ind., finds food a great morale booster for his staff. In addition to "Donut Day" every Friday, after battling a recent snow emergency requiring 12-hour shifts, Campbell bought pizza for his guys. "After it's all over with, we just want to be able to say thank you. We know it's snowing and everyone's tired, but they can at least take their lunch break and enjoy some pizza. Just to help boost the morale."

Even better than having the boss buy food for the staff is when they actually cook it, too. In the summer, Campbell said management cooks for the staff. "We try to do that a couple times. We don't get to do that enough. In those situations, we usually cover the cost of the meat and do carry-ins. The guys request baked goods from my wife for that event. You'd be amazed. It's just something that simple...the little things."

Palm Beach County Fleet Management Division also hosts an Annual Employee Appreciation Luncheon where the management team cooks lunch for the employees to thank them for all their efforts during the past year. "Individual praise and thanking employees is part of the management team philosophy," Weichman said.

And when food comes unexpectedly, it's also a special treat for staff. One of the City of Troy's customers whose truck had been repaired came back an hour and a half later with donuts for the staff. "It didn't cost us anything, but it was a pick-up for the guys. It puts a smile on their faces," said Lamerato.

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