4 Steps to Increase Self-Storage Employee Engagement and Avoid Work-Zombie Syndrome

Self-storage owners who want their business to thrive must have engaged employees. Here are four steps to avoid C-level “work zombies” and instead create A-level enthusiasts.

Rick Beal

February 16, 2020

5 Min Read
4 Steps to Increase Self-Storage Employee Engagement and Avoid Work-Zombie Syndrome

Self-storage competition is growing, markets are saturating and rates are dropping. What are you going to do? Polish your doors? Increase your marketing spend? Sit back and let life happen to you?

One of the fundamentals to self-storage success—one many owners and supervisors ignore until it’s too late—is employee engagement. But creating an engaged team takes effort. If you aren’t willing to work and get out of your comfort zone, please stop reading this article. However, if you want to start growing your business, read on. I’ll give you four steps to avoid “work zombies” and instead create enthusiasts.

Lack of Engagement

No system or fancy gadget can grow your self-storage operation more than engaged employees. The single best investment you’ll ever make is to devote time and effort to your staff. When team members are engaged, they’ll always strive to be better, and everything around them will improve.

That said, engagement isn’t a well-stocked break room or annual holiday party. These are just pacifiers that’ll lull your C-level employees, bore your B-level staff and anger your A-level team (assuming you have one).

According to a 2017 survey by advisory firm Gallup Inc., 44 percent of employees feel stuck in their role, 50 percent feel their employer takes them for granted and 35 percent feel work directly affects their ability to be happy. What’s more, 40 percent believe their job has a negative impact on their life, and 70 percent aren’t engaged in what they’re doing.

While those numbers might seem shocking, think of your own work history. Has your career always been unicorns and rainbows? What jobs have you had that were engaging, made you happy to come to work or drove you to improve? Once you consider it, those statistics make perfect sense.

Improving Lives

As a young boy, I often went camping in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. I lived by one motto, “Leave it better than you found it.” That creed has followed me through the years into my business life. As a self-storage owner or leader, you have a responsibility to better the lives of the people you manage, leaving them better than when you found them.

Engaged workers believe in the job they do. They’ve bought into your vision and are emotionally attached to their work. They perform with drive and passion and are willing to go the extra mile. They pull on their oars and do everything they can to move your business forward.

Directly contrasting that are employees who aren’t engaged. They range from “seat warmers” to those who actively work against your business. They bring others down, monopolize a supervisor’s time, drive away customers and do things that aren’t productive to the workplace. They’re work zombies. Not good.

The Path to Engagement

So, how do you create a more engaged team? Start with these four steps.

Be a better leader. You can bet your sweet patootie that any change you want to see in your operation needs to come from the top. You must know the personality of your employees and play to their strengths. The same issues staff struggle with outside the office come into the workplace. By knowing your people’s beliefs, values, goals and challenges, you’ll be able to interact with them in the best possible way.

Improve the work environment. Your employees spend more waking moments at work than they do at home, with their loved ones and in areas in which they’re most comfortable. The place they come to every day needs to be one they like! Look around your work environment. When’s the last time you moved things around? Is there something you can do to make it different? Change things up once in a while. Not only does this help prevent burnout, it’ll increase creativity.

Give every person an opportunity to grow. There’s been a shift in what employees want out of their jobs. To some degree, it’s changed from paycheck to purpose. It’s also evolved from satisfaction to development, boss to coach, weakness to strength and, finally, job to life. If you aren’t spending equal time developing your people as you are driving your new Ducati motorcycle, they won’t be your employees much longer. If they stay, they’ll only remain at the B- or C-level and you’ll never reap the rewards of having a truly engaged team.

Much of the growth you want to see in employees comes from continual conversations and coaching. These discussions should focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. Almost every feedback session I ever had with a supervisor focused on what I’m doing wrong. While there’s a place for that, these conversations should be about what the employee is doing right. If you’re to help your staff grow, it isn’t by correcting vulnerabilities; it’s by growing assets.

We’re all trained to focus feedback on the negative. Think about the last time someone asked for your input on something. Did you focus on the positive? Most likely, you made a list of the bad. We’re wired to receive positive feedback, so why aren’t we giving it?

Recognize people for a job well done. Overwhelmingly, the best tool to encourage employees is recognition. Think of a time you worked hard on a project and finished it. It was your baby, and your blood, sweat and tears went into it. Did it ever happen that after it was finished, the person above you didn’t recognize your effort or even offer a half-hearted thank-you? It’s happened to me, and it changed the way I worked. Have you been guilty of doing it yourself?

It doesn’t cost anything to praise someone. When done right, it’ll make a greater impact than any financial bonus. Send people a handwritten thank-you note instead of an e-mail. Since you know your employees (or should), send them a personal gift related to their favorite hobby or sports team.

These steps all require “doing.” You must make them happen. Rain “just happens,” employee engagement does not. Your role is critical to the success and confidence of your staff. Make sure team is engaged and actively working toward a common purpose and outcome. By so doing, you’ll harvest the rewards and your business will grow.

Rick Beal is co-founder of The Atomic Storage Group, a third-party management and consulting organization. To contact him, e-mail rick@atomicstoragegroup.com or stay up-to-date with all his publications and speaking engagements at www.linkedin.com/in/storagerick. For more information, visit www.atomicstoragegroup.com.

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