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Monday, October 13, 2008



by Kelly Bennett, WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI) Business Development Instructor

In this series of fictional letters from a new shop owner to his former boss, WTI management trainer Kelly Bennett discusses basic business principles that apply to the automotive repair industry.

Avoiding BURNOUT! discusses how understanding your own personal boundaries can be the first step to creating a more positive working environment.

Dear Kelly.

Thanks for recommending The Introvert Advantage. I really enjoyed reading it and it turns out I’m far more introverted than I thought. I had everyone on my staff take the test and it should come as no surprise to you that Brian, my right-hand man, is a big time extrovert. Remember him at the Christmas party? This could explain our different approaches to work! But I’m still a little fuzzy about how this knowledge can help improve my business.

- Erol

Dear Erol:

I’ve got one word for you: burn-out. Knowing how you respond to people, and how to recharge your batteries is going to help you avoid burn-out – which is an epidemic in business, particularly in our industry.

There’s tremendous pressure to act like extroverts all the time. After all, two thirds of the population are extroverts. And, as a businessman, you probably feel like you have to be outgoing, friendly, and constantly interested in people in order to succeed in a retail business. But if that’s not who you are, that’s going to be exhausting and it’s going to cause you a lot of stress.

For example, customers often want to talk directly to me because I’m the owner of the business. Never mind that I have a perfectly capable service adviser right there at the counter, they ask for me. Well, I’ve learned how to very calmly give them a minute or two of my time. I listen to their question, but then turn to my service adviser – right in front of them – and ask if what the customer would like is possible. My customer sees that it isn’t necessary to talk directly to me. They learn that I’m just going to ask my service adviser anyway.

This is just one strategy I’ve learned to help an introvert like me survive in an extrovert world. I also get away from the shop when I need to, cloister myself in my office to get things done, escape into books or music to help recharge my batteries, and take frequent time-outs to stay fresh. But those strategies are not going to help an extrovert like Brian. (Yes, I do remember the Christmas party. Did you ever get the lamp-shade back?) In fact, extroverts operate on a whole other level, and require a very different working environment.

It might surprise you to know that, statistically speaking, extroverts tend to burn out faster, don’t live as long, have more problems with the law, and go through more jobs. Extroverts also tend to have more “approval addiction.”

They thrive on attention and validation from other people. And because other people are so critical to their own sense of self, they tend to forget how important it is to get away from it all, to relax, and unwind. They have a harder time leaving work. And when they do, they sometimes take work home with them. People like Brian need to find hobbies that will help them focus on something other than work.

I love it when employees talk about their life outside of the shop. One guy likes to talk about his volunteer firefighting training. Another guy is really into sports. We have some fitness nuts, and an amateur racer. I give them every opportunity to talk about what’s important in their lives, so it’s not always work, work, work!

Extroverts thrive on this! (We introverts tend to keep to ourselves. Different strokes for different folks.) Regardless of our temperament, we all need time to recharge our batteries in our own way. For extroverts this might mean putting the tools down for a while and talking about other stuff. For introverts, it might mean taking a quiet walk around the block.

Most people these days are running on empty. The phrase you hear from almost everyone you talk to is, “I’m so busy!” You even hear it from customers. I had a soccer mom in the other day who had to drive her three kids to 12 different sporting events that week.

Burn-out in our industry is particularly common. And the sad part is that we’re losing people before we see the best of them. Most people don’t see the early warning signs. They would be well served reading The Overload Syndrome by Dr. Richard Swenson (ISBN 1-57683-131-0). He says we need to learn to live within our limits – especially those of us who are self-employed. We have to make the right choices about how to spend our time and energy.

For extroverts, that can be particularly challenging because they’re often unaware of the need for limits or boundaries. Extroverts don’t even want to think about slowing down. They get addicted to activity. They need to be constantly moving. I think that’s why they tend to burn out faster than introverts, and why they don’t live as long on average, and why they’re more likely to go through a separation or divorce.

As a boss, you can help your employees avoid burn-out by knowing their temperament (where they fall on the introvert/extrovert continuum) and by creating a work environment that is suited to them. In a way, it’s not unlike what we do as automotive repair professionals. We’re trained to look for symptoms, diagnose the system, and affect a repair. In the same way, you need to be keeping an eye out for symptoms of burn-out among your staff.

Symptoms could include frequent irritation with friends and colleagues, outbursts of temper, withdrawal, detachment, changes in sleep pattern, increased incidence of accidents, and increased use of tranquilizers, alcohol, or cigarettes. Any unusual behavior could be the result of workplace stresses – which you can help alleviate if you know how they need to recharge their batteries.

All of this study of personalities is more than just an interest of mine. It is making me a better boss, and it’s helping me build stronger relationships with my team and with my family. At home we have two introverts and three extroverts. We now plan ‘introvert days’ as well as ‘extrovert days.’ It’s a much healthier approach to planning activities.

Thanks for going deeper in your e-mails. This stuff is harder to talk about than typical shop management issues. But I think the aftermarket ignores it at its peril. The burn-out rate is too high as it is. It’s time we figured out how to avoid it.

- Kelly

To learn more about Kelly Bennett's Business Development Classes, visit the WORLDPAC Training Institute (WTI).

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