Motivating Employees for Productivity

Shop owners discuss management styles, regulating work hours, and ways to cultivate a good employee work ethic. June 23, 2006

I will be mostly selling and running the business side and my shop foreman is good enough and so are the other guys. However, I get so aggravated when someone walks through the door and everyone wants to talk, or takes 10 minutes extra on lunch or walks in 5-15 minutes late.

Being the way I am donít say a whole lot because these guys really do good work and I feel like family with them. The whole thought has been on my mind for some time and I keep saying Iíll brainstorm later but I thought I would come to you guys to learn from your experience.

Last week one of my men wanted to do a cabinet for his relatives and then another wanted to build a mantel for his house. I told them sure it was a fridge benefit but they would have to pay for materials and a little extra for power, tooling and etc. These guys worked all day and then were in here at night and on Saturday getting it done. (The work they did was a little more involved then I described). Anyhow I just noticed how they work when it is for them or in one of their cases when they were going to make "side money."

My point is that these guys really do great but I know deep down that if they were in essence in it for them I would not have scheduling problems. Getting enough work could be a problem because their work ethics are really impressive all the time not just in this scenario. Maybe it would be a win-win situation?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
I worked at several shops before I went on my own and I learned that the "nice guy" doesnít win. Cabinetmaking is a tough business, working fast and accurate is what it takes. We need to get a lot out of the low paid workers that are just out of school. Let them see how hard you are working and gain their respect. Thatís step one.

From contributor X:
When youíre a one, two or three man shop we tend to be close and on intimate terms with our employee's. We look the other way on the time clock issue. Extra allowances occur. We get agitated, and don't want to be the bad guy.

Once we get a foreman, things change. We assign him duties and that is to mind the time clock, watch for unnecessary free projects and the list goes on and on. He is our buffer zone between us and the employee's. We back him up to the fullest because he is doing our wishes. As we gain more employees we have a shop supervisor who watches over every aspect of the business thus we gain an additional buffer zone.

This is done all because we sat down and wrote out some shop rules and had a foreman that made everyone abide by them. If the shop foreman can't handle his job, we get a new foreman. Life is cruel. Being hardnosed is expected of you if you expect to stay in business. I have always told employees that their main responsibility is to keep me out of trouble. Not the other way around.

From contributor H:
Back in the days when I had several employees some of my rules where:
1. No side work that we can do in our shop. If your neighbor needs a kitchen - bring it to the shop. You'll get paid to do it anyway. I don't need you busting your hump on weekends just to come in on Monday dragging you butt.

2. No personal projects during regular work hours.

3. I keep track of the material used and determine the final price of what any of them made for themselves. Of course they get a good break.

Itís a difficult position youíre in. The labor pool in many parts of the country is not too deep. Many employees realize this. Good craftsmen are hard to find yet don't loose sight of the fact that no one is indispensable. Be willing to let someone go even if it makes you life a little hard for a while. Tell your shop foreman how you want it, and if he is unwilling to get it done them someone else will have to.

From contributor B:
I never really had a bad stretched lunch/break sort of issue. It was more like 5 minutes here or there while rounding out on the hand written time cards. Not a big issue but one that bothered me the way this bothers you.

I solved it by buying a time clock. They punch out for lunch and that covers that. We are more flexible on breaks and they take them when and for how long they like. Both guys are totally honest and dependable so I'm happy to let them have a few minutes here and there if they want. But I choose to do this so it doesn't bother me if it gets stretched a bit.

Bottom line though is they tend to keep the breaks shorter then longer. However, we don't have a cozy and comfortable break room so there isn't a lot of temptation to do otherwise.

From contributor J:
I think that what is also very important and did not get addressed well, is whether you are making money. If youíre turning a good profit and the quality is good then if it's not broke, don't fix it. I understand the frustration when those long breaks are on your dime but I also understand that most of us responding, including myself, left working for other shops to go out on our own. And I can honestly say I liked the shop I worked at and would have stayed had it not been for an overly aggressive foreman.

I prefer the more casual atmosphere and not being watched over all the time, and yes we did have a time clock so we only got paid for when we were on the floor. At the end of the day you must decide how to run your own shop. But in a field where "good help" is especially hard to find I believe you must keep your employees happy so they keep making you money. If there not working for you they'll be working for your competition.

From contributor R:
I have worked as a shop worker and as a manager in several different shops, and find hourly pay is a poor motivator in the long run. Everyone, no matter how much they are making, eventually feels that they are worth more to the company - especially if they see the boss buying new toys and houses and taking time off.

My rule of thumb for employers is; never ask an employee to do something that you will not, or cannot do yourself (excluding certain technical tasks). What I mean by this is that if you cannot show up at 6 a.m. and work for ten hours with two short breaks and a short lunch period, and then eat sandwiches every day. Don't expect your men to do it and not try to stretch something somewhere. Treat your employees as you would want to be treated, and work out some kind of monetary incentive or bonus system, so that they feel like they are sharing in the growth and good fortune of the company. If they feel like they are rewarded for working harder, they will.

Very few employers and managers can grasp this concept for some reason, and I am sure that many will reply to tell you why it won't/can't work. Have you ever worked somewhere like that? Have they? The interesting thing is that you could try this and always go back to the old way if it wasn't working; put in a time clock to let the employees know that you don't trust them to keep track of their own time, and they can find another job if they don't like it.

From contributor S:
Contributor R - I don't think the time clock is as onerous as you suggest. It's merely the best of all possible ways to keep track of time. I try to keep my overhead low. I don't have a full-time office manager. This means that me, or somebody in my shop has to post hours so we can send them into the payroll service. If you have ever had to do this yourself you would find that it's not about trust, it's about penmanship. You've seen a lot of metric spelling at the forums. Can you imagine what some of the handwriting looks like? Till I can get my guys to wear a radio-frequency collar I'm going stick with the time clock.

From contributor R:
Do you punch your own time clock? There are lots of ways to track time, and every one takes a little bit of time. There can be abuse and mistakes with time clocks, just like any other time tracking tool. Getting accurate time accounting is an ongoing challenge. Some people fool themselves into thinking that just because someone has punched in and out, that they are getting accurate numbers. We are always just getting a "best guess" at how much actual time goes into any phase of a project, and to get truly honest feedback, there must be a level of trust between employee and employer. I think time clocks are a wedge between the two parties. I don't see too many employers and managers punching the same clocks as their employees. Why?

From contributor S:
If owners and managers were paid by the hour, I am sure they would punch a clock too. We all come together in a communal effort to offer our services for money. Some of us are paid by salary, some of us get paid by the hour and some of us just live on what's left over. You have to have some way to measure it so you can pay it. Time clocks work best for hourly pay.

I have four people on my payroll and they get paid every other Friday. Getting the payroll ready to send in takes about an hour if you do it after everyone goes home and about three hours if you do it in the middle of the day when the phone is ringing and everybody else wants a piece of you.
None of this effort adds any value but it needs to happen. I am reasonably certain that if I offered my crew the option of being paid by the hour or by salary, they will pick hourly. If you offered them hourly pay vs profit I am certain they would take hourly pay.

I have great workers. I have not always had great workers. I know the difference between those two scenarios. I want my guys to like working here. They get breaks whenever they want one and for however long they want. If their wife comes in, they stop what they are doing and visit with them. If they don't like the music they put different music on. If they want to take a day off they just have to ask. I try to raise their wages whenever I can. The time clock part of it is just to eliminate some tedium in the office. It's no more complicated than that.

From contributor A:
I agree with Contributor S. I do everything I can to make it as good a place to work as I can. I don't know about where you live but in my town good woodworkers are about as scarce as henís teeth. What I found was a simple time sheet they sign out for breaks and lunch works for me. Shop is open from about 7:30 to approximately 6:00. Anytime you get your time in that week is fine. Some weeks folks are on a 4 day, some weeks on a 5 day. Just write it down on our project board so we can make sure work gets out on time. We do other things that seem to help employee moral. I want my good people to know they would be crazy to think they could get a better job someplace else. I get rid of the ones that cause disharmony and are a pain in my butt.

From contributor S:
Contributor A, you raise a good point about flex time. We work a five day week and every now and then one or two guys will work a weekend day. The guys pretty much come and go as it works for them. There is no startup bell and they schedule their own lunches. These lunches are varied throughout the week. Each guy takes his as it seems convenient or he is hungry. They never seem to take it each day at the same time though they seem to have a consistent rotation between them. A change in lunch shift is usually signaled with the common newspaper being passed to the next guy like a baton.

Start up time is also random. Our usual start up is around 8:00 am, but they will typically wander in any time between then and 8:30. If someone is going to be way outside that they usually call. Most of them work 5 or 6 hours of overtime each week. I never have to ask for it, they just do it if it needs to be done.

I think arbitrary start and stop times promotes pre-break warm down and post break bonding periods. You can bet that if a guy is always in a good place to stop each day at the same time, he scheduled that into his output level.

I have very little work experience outside of self-employment. I can remember a brief stint in a cabinet shop when I first moved to Seattle. The morning break buzzer rang but I was not yet done with my task. I kept working and the foreman came over to insist that I stop right now. It only took me one day to start keeping an eye out for that clock.

If you want to have structure in these breaks, I suggest you schedule lunch as a specified break within a window of time. If lunch lasts 30 minutes, schedule it to occur between 12:00 and 1:00, depending on good stopping points in production. Having said all of this I now think my approach is contrary to a lean workflow. In as much as lean is about continuous improvement, I think I will hold this one out for the last tweak.