‘No One Wants to Work Anymore’: Confronting the Truths About Self-Storage Staffing Challenges

If you truly think no one “wants to work anymore” you might be the problem. It’s time to face some truths about staffing your self-storage business, examine why you believe this tired phrase and how to make a change.

Amy Campbell, Senior Editor

July 7, 2023

5 Min Read

You’ve probably heard someone say it, read it or even thought it yourself: No one wants to work anymore. Of course, this is an exaggeration as plenty of people do want to work. Plus, it’s a tired phrase that’s been bandied about for decades. I can clearly recall my grandparents saying it when I was a teen. It’s also a favorite phrase uttered by my mom, who’s 72. Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University, said it’s actually a long-running trope in American history.

For the most part, it isn’t that people have become lazier or can’t take pride in their work. The truth is, our lives post-pandemic have changed greatly. More employees, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are reevaluating their worth. They want a fair wage, benefits and vacation days. They desire a company that supports their professional growth. They want to feel like part of a team, like they matter. This should be attainable, yet we live in a society where it isn’t for many.

While many states have increased the minimum wage, the federal minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 an hour. You can’t even purchase a McDonald’s meal for that price! It’s certainly not a “livable” wage in today’s inflationary environment. Neither is the $13 or even $15 an hour wage that some states and companies have adopted. While I understand this is often offered for entry-level positions, these workers still bring something to job, even if they haven’t yet developed a ton of skills.

Yet some business owners, even in the self-storage industry, have unrealistic expectations for these positions. They offer low pay, few if any vacation or sick time, and zero benefits. For some shocking and real-life situations, check out this BuzzFeed article on the topic.

The fact is you can have the nicest looking self-storage facility in town but without quality frontline staff, it might not be as successful. High employee turnover costs money, time and resources. If you don’t think your customers will notice that a different person is in the front office every few months, you’re wrong. They will and they’ll wonder why you can’t keep your managers. It will reflect poorly on your business.

So how do you attract and retain these top-tier employees? Here are some pointers.

Pay them appropriately. If you’re employees aren’t making a living wage for your area, you’re not paying them enough. Too many people—both inside and outside the self-storage industry—think a manager’s job is pretty simple. Sure, they’re not performing heart surgery, but it’s a complex profession that has changed drastically. These are the people who are running your site every day. They’re proficient in technology, sales, customer service, marketing, maintenance, and so much more. Pay them what they’re worth.

Provide benefits. Along with fair compensation comes a benefits package. It can be complicated for single-site storage operators to offer affordable medical and dental benefits, but it is possible. Shop around until you find a plan that works for you and your managers.

Furthermore, offering some kind of paid time off is a must. Everyone gets ill, needs a vacation, visits a doctor or dentist. Plus, days away from work outside of traditional time off allows employees to recharge.

Offer training. There are countless veteran self-storage managers who say they received little to no training before being on their own at a storage facility. Hopefully, that’s changed. But I bet there are still plenty of businesses that aren’t fully training staff before handing over the metaphorical keys to the kingdom. There are so many avenues for this, so there’s really no excuse. If you don’t have the time or the knowledge, hire someone to conduct staff training.

Moreover, it shouldn’t be a one and done deal. It’s critical for training to be ongoing, whether it’s something new or a refresher. Everyone should aim for professional growth. Help your staff achieve it by providing resources such as a subscription to ISS magazine. Or cover the cost for them to attend state and national conferences and tradeshows, and encourage them to get involved in local business organizations.

Support them. Beyond compensation and quality training, your managers need to know you support them on every level. If a tenant were to come to you to complain about XYZ and your manager is in the right, back them up! There’s nothing more demoralizing than when your boss doesn’t have your back. It tells them that they don’t matter.

In addition, listen to them. If they tell you something important about your business, hear them out. They’re interacting with your storage tenants daily. They see what’s happening and know your site inside and out. Be open to their suggestions and ideas.

This isn’t to say that every person you hire will be a rockstar. There’ll be errors and you might have an employee who really falls under the “doesn’t want to work” category. Perhaps you were too quick to hire, brought in a friend or family member, or even inherited a manager when you purchased the facility. Whatever the case, if you’ve done all the things above—good pay and benefits, training, and support—it’s probably not a good fit.

When this happens, don’t let it drag on for weeks or months. Part on good terms by offering a fair severance package and do better with the next hire. There are lazy workers out there who rotate from job to job. Don’t let them find a spot on your team and take your business under. Rather, aim to foster a work environment that attracts the best managers who’ll stick around for a long time.

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Senior Editor, Inside Self Storage

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