Techs say they 'don't get no respect'

July 20, 2000
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Every year, different consulting firms in different industries churn out surveys showing why people want to leave their jobs. And every year in just about every survey, one of the top three reasons is that employees do not feel respected by their employers.

The same is true in the survey The News just performed. Many technicians feel that their employers don’t respect their abilities and rarely (if ever) tell them that a job was well done. As one technician notes, “Money is important, but feeling appreciated and that you are accomplishing something is equally important.”

Appreciation doesn’t have to manifest itself in a tangible form, such as cash or a year-end party. A sincere “Thank you, you did a great job out there” will suffice.

Accentuate the positive

John Britz, depot manager for NuTemp Inc., Gonzales, LA, says that refrigeration is a great field to be in, but over time, it’s easy to become burned out from dealing with customers while receiving little respect from employers.

“It seems to me that companies really don’t care about the employees very much unless you’re at the top,” Britz says. “Companies need to understand that the employees can hurt their business just as much as help it.”

He says that companies need to listen to their employees and try to include things that they ask for, if possible. In addition, he’d like to see owners explain what’s going on in the company, as well as open profit-sharing plans and show employees the progress.

“The bottom line is, if the industry keeps losing the good people like we have, who is going to train the new people? Where are the good new people going to come from? How will companies fight off the big guys and be able to offer the consumer good service and price with just an average workforce?”

Christopher Young, a technician from Farmington, NY, says that while he loves his work, it becomes increasingly difficult to work for a company that shows no appreciation to those who work hard. “About the only time I hear from the company is when I do something wrong.”

He says that the company adds insult to injury, continuing to add work to the procedures list without adding compensation (he works flat rate, which hasn’t increased in five years).

Here again, Young says it’s the simple things that could keep technicians happy. For example, he loves knowing that he did a good job “saving a unit from an untimely death,” but he’d like someone to notice.

Understanding and opportunities

Mark Kelsch, service manager at Sound Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., Tacoma, WA, knows about leaving jobs. In his 30-year career as a service technician, he has changed companies 18 times. He says that techs jump shop because they’re not happy.

“Usually it’s a feeling of lack of appreciation for what they do,” Kelsch explains. “Instead of understanding the stress involved in trying to make systems work, many companies just keep piling on the work. The result is a stressed-out tech who has little time to do the job correctly or finish his calls for the day, and a company complaining about callbacks and hours spent on the job.”

Kelsch notes that the techs who work for him want to stay because they feel like part of a team. “I post the monthly revenues in chart form to show them where we stand as a department and where we need to be. Everyone would like more money, but if the revenues are not there, raises are not possible. My techs know when to ask, and if the truck revenues warrant a raise, they get it.”

Another benefit that Kelsch offers is training, and lots of it. He believes that extensive training is necessary for the jobs the technicians currently perform, and it’s also something that the techs want. “It offers an opportunity for advancement.”

Make it happen

It’s no good if an opportunity is promised but never comes to fruition. Tim Chaffee, Port Huron, MI, says he wishes his employer would make good on his promises to continue to grow the business and offer him a chance to buy into the company.

“The owner is a decent man but is unwilling or unable to grow/operate more than just a skeleton staff” Chaffee says. “He has promised each time to make changes and has, to some extent, but we seem a step behind.”

Chaffee says his employer needs to be willing to delegate more responsibility so that things run more efficiently, and to also pay for professional management training so the existing staff is better equipped to handle a larger staff.

Unfortunately, some companies still don’t seem to respect technicians even if they have years of experience or education. Gordon Munoz, Sacramento, CA, left his last employer because “As a tenured technician, it becomes difficult working for employers that don’t respect you, your experience, or your knowledge.”

A technician from Clifton, NJ, who wishes to remain anonymous, is thinking seriously about leaving his current position; he would like to work for “management that knows the industry and respects the experience of their techs. People with little experience in the trade are managing service techs.” He’s also unhappy because his salary does not reflect his 30 years of experience in commercial-industrial hvac.

It’s very easy to take someone for granted — a friend, a spouse, or an employee. We’ve all done it. We just assume that day after day, that person will be there, and we don’t have to do anything about it.

Then the friendship, marriage, or employment falls apart, and we’re left wondering what happened. It usually comes down to appreciation and respect.

Sidebar: Big Brother's watching

In California, technicians may be leaving due to a “Big Brother” mentality of increased regulation and supervision by the state.

Dan Moore, vice president of MoorCo Service, Oceanside, CA, says that the hvac industry there has become very demanding and regulated.

“The laws and customers are becoming ever increasing in pressure and weight to be 100% all the time. I don’t think that most of the technicians got into this industry to be watched and controlled from all sides.”

Sidebar: Insight from auto industry

One former technician had some insight into the problems with the hvac industry. Terry Carmouche, of St. Amant, LA, left the hvacr industry and now works for a chemical plant, where he received a $6/hr raise, doesn’t have to deal with angry customers, and is home more often with his family.

He says that techs are leaving the industry because the only thing they are not doing after selling to the customer, ordering and installing the equipment, and hauling away the debris, is depositing the check and reaping the rewards for a very hard job. He says the industry is at fault.

“I recall hearing of an executive from one of the ‘Big Three’ car companies invited to speak at an air conditioning convention for business owners near New Orleans. He shocked the crowd when he informed them that they were on the road to failure unless they woke up and learned how to run their companies.

“He went on to say that they [car companies] sell a product for $20,000 and warranty it for one year. You [a/c companies] sell a product for $1,200 and warranty it for 10 years on compressor, parts, and labor!”

He says customers are used to being able to call a contractor and pick one based on the cheapest price. When the unit quits working on the weekend, right before guests arrive, they phone the companies that have on-call numbers, qualified techs, insurance, and licenses. “We all know where the ‘cheapest’ guy is at. His mistakes now become our problem and for the price of a call out, we become responsible for the system.

“We live in a Wal-Mart society where people want it both ways, and the only one who suffers is the man or woman who shows up to do the repair. The boss back at the office doesn’t crawl in the recesses of a 150°F attic at 4:30 p.m. to drain 20 gallons of condensate from an auxiliary pan — this after the six calls he has made since this morning. The secretary has promised an angry customer that we are on our way just as soon as I finish my 4:30 call as she leaves for home.

“The service radio comes alive just as we’re driving into our driveways. ‘Can you catch one more call before you go home?’ I had enough!”

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