Retaining maintenance staff can be a challenge under normal circumstances. As we’ve discussed before, the turnover of maintenance techs is continuing to increase to an unheard of 39.2 percent. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge out the door, as well as the more tangible costs of hiring and training hard-to-find replacements.
These challenges are exacerbated by the pandemic. New public safety rules have redefined how, when, and where maintenance activities take place, while the risks of Covid-19 have put the health and wellbeing of all frontline employees in the spotlight. Now, with techs in the position to demand more for their services, building operators are challenged to up their game to keep their talent.
While we’re all hoping Covid-19 will be a relatively short-term problem, it has accelerated some personnel issues that will have long-term impact. Here are some ways to increase your retention of maintenance techs both during and after the pandemic.
1) Provide PPE and other necessary supplies
While executives and administrators can often work remotely, maintenance techs are out there on the front lines. They not only encounter numerous people throughout their day, they clean common areas and enter residents’ homes. As a result, techs must be provided with training, PPEs (e.g., gloves, masks, etc.), and other supplies, like disinfectant and hand sanitizers, to mitigate their exposure to Covid-19. Doing so not only protects the health of your team but demonstrates that their health and safety are of top importance. You can be sure that any techs who don’t feel valued now will be out the door at the first opportunity.
2) Set priorities
Does that squeaky door need to be fixed right now? Is that odd smell really a priority? For many property maintenance teams today, the answer is no. During recent SuiteSpot interviews with U.S. and Canadian operators, we found that the majority are putting regular maintenance activities on hold and focusing solely on emergency repairs that affect resident safety. Those who are tackling everyday repairs waited until the infection rate was low in their area and PPE was in stock. Taking a similar approach (or limiting less essential tasks) limits your team’s potential exposure – factors that will make coming to work a lot more inviting.
3) Think differently
Unusual times call for innovative solutions. Herein, the pandemic presents an opportunity to re-think how maintenance techs go about their day. Examples from our property operator interviews include creating DIY (do it yourself) videos to help residents tackle simple repairs on their own, conducting repairs off-site after swapping out appliances, or using virtual collaboration tools to avoid in-person interactions. Take a fresh look for opportunities to limit contact, which will make the job more appealing. (For example, residents can conduct self-inspections.) In fact, a few operators felt their pandemic-born solutions worked so well that they plan to continue them even after any risk has passed.
4) Streamline the process
Consider ways to make maintenance requests easier to manage and quicker to tackle. This means enabling real-time communication (e.g., mobile devices, connected systems, etc.), standardizing processes, and reducing the paper-work burden where possible. Similarly, digitizing the maintenance request process can help techs prioritize their day, track their progress, and avoid the “back and forth” associated with receiving multiple requests across various locations. For example, an operator with paper-based systems said techs felt frustrated because they might have to enter the same building several times for different maintenance requests instead of being able to consolidate their efforts with a better-organized system.
5) Financial incentives
Last, but certainly not least, a raise in pay goes a long way in terms of retention. As we mentioned earlier, maintenance techs are among the front-line workers in the COVID-19 pandemic. And like other professionals who are being called outside their homes during these decidedly risky times, a little extra pay (either temporary or long-term) can go a long way towards securing team loyalties. As tech turnover continues to skyrocket, it’s likely that techs will be able to command higher wages even when the pandemic has passed. When you weigh it against the cost of turnover—especially in an environment where techs are particularly scarce—you’re likely to come out ahead raising wages, especially if you combine it with other retention efforts.
Overall, it’s clear that maintenance techs are central to resident safety and asset values. Today, though, heightened safety concerns have made maintenance jobs both riskier and more demanding. To prevent techs from walking across the street, consider ways to make their jobs safer, less taxing, and more rewarding. Remember: What you do today will shape the team that sticks with you to the end.