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Best tech appreciation tip? Feed them

Oct. 7, 2022
Frequent free meals really show technicians you appreciate them and will build trust and loyalty.

If you’re the type of maintenance manager who believes there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I’d sure be interested in seeing your technician retention numbers. Because I have a wild theory that providing your shop workers with free meals, the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of retention strategies, offer the best return on investment. And if you don’t offer simple perks like the occasional employee lunch, your techs, whose demand will only increase in the coming years, are likely to find a workplace that does know how to show their appreciation.

You should of course pay a competitive wage to workers, offer them training and avenues for advancement, and spring for an offsite teambuilding exercise once in a while.  But people gotta’ eat, after all, and small acts that recognize these are people, not drones, working for you, goes a long way.

Consider if you have 10 technicians on an afternoon shift. Once a week, you order out and maybe pay $150. They stay in the shop as opposed to leaving for an hour, and will likely make up that cost in productivity that day. And the strong family culture you’ve fostered with a group meal may prevent spending thousands of dollars down the line in onboarding a new tech, because workers stay and help your shop become better.

Read more: Sweetening the deal for shop technicians

Anecdotally, shops I’ve visited, such as Fontaine Modification in Chillicothe (which serves Kenworth’s nearby plant) and collision repair facility Fleet Fast in Akron, have made it a point to provide regular lunches to their techs. Fontaine would provide them weekly, while Fleet Fast would order out during training sessions. These were small operations that had solid productivity and boasted solid retention numbers.

Online grocer Peapod found as much to be true. In a survey of 1,000 office employees, Peapod found 56% were very happy or extremely happy with their company, and if that employer offered free food, that number jumped to 67%. You shouldn’t really need a survey to glean that giving people free food makes them happier, but there it is.

The commercial vehicle repair sector seems to need more convincing. According to Fullbay’s 2022 State of Heavy-Duty Repair Industry Report, only 34% of the shops canvassed offered lunch as an incentive. Forty-four percent did offer some sort of bonus or incentive program, so maybe they figure they can buy or bring their own lunch. But it’s not just about a little more money in their paychecks, (which will get taxed, while business meals from restaurants qualify as a deductible business expense.)

There are several reasons why appealing to your techs’ stomachs provides value to your maintenance operation.

On a basic level, ordering lunch for the team helps them recharge after a morning of wheel end maintenance or whatever else they were doing. Even with the increase in diagnostics and mental tasks, commercial vehicle maintenance is still a highly physical activity. And if you’re picking the menu, you can ensure employees will consume an energy-rich nutritious meal, as opposed to fast food. That can prevent a post-meal sluggishness, which could have a negative impact on productivity and fleet uptime. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t order pizza now and again.

Beyond that, it’s a way to team build and inject esprit de corps within the shop. You get to sit down with the team, get a feel for who they are, and how they get along. You can get updates on their personal lives or just shoot the breeze. It doesn’t matter, because you’re bonding, hopefully becoming more akin to a close-knit like a family. And benefits of families eating together may include better mental performance and self-esteem, as well as lower risk of depression, according to TheFamilyDinnerProject.org.

One thing shops can do to increase that family feel is with a little home cooking.

“One thing that has consistently received great feedback from our techs is our appreciation cook outs,” noted Paul Pettit, VP of maintenance at Riverside Transport Inc, who discussed the topic during National Technician Appreciation Week 2022. “There are many ways to show your technicians appreciation, but cooking food for your team will always be a big success.”

During a tour of Pitt Ohio’s new Cleveland Terminal, Taki Darakos, VP of vehicle maintenance & fleet services, pointed out a cozy kitchenette with an outdoor grilling area. Darakos said the state-of-the-art facility can sustain itself 100% with renewable energy, but the fleet recognized sustenance of it employees has value as well.

William Gruendike, senior fleet capability manager for Frito Lay, noted that the free lunch could be open-ended, as his fleet provides gift cards so techs could go out for a nice steak dinner. Frito Lay also offers other gift cards, apparel, hotel stays, and tool and boot allowances as well to show their appreciation.

He added that appreciation extends beyond physical comforts, and Frito Lay marks joyous and somber occasions, from births to deaths in the family, with flower baskets.

Those are all great signs of appreciation, but if you don’t have the budget of PespiCo, Frito Lay’s parent company, keep it simple by going with the gut.

“It can be difficult to find the perfect give away items or gifts, but food and spending time getting to know your team can help build trust and show appreciation at the same time,” Pettit offered.

The important thing to remember is that you need to provide some tokens of gratitude, something to show you care about the people, not just vehicle uptime.

“If you make an effort to show your techs they are appreciated it will go a very long way for you,” Pettit continued. “By being available and listening to their concerns you can show support and gain the trust of your team at the same time.”

One final word of advice from Pettit, appropriate for the conclusion of National Technician Appreciation Week: “Don’t wait for the national appreciation week to show your technicians you respect and appreciate their hard work. You can show appreciation at any time during the year, and it will go a very long way for you. It might even help to reduce turnover for fleets struggling to retain their technicians.”

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).

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