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Accentuate the Positive: How to Buoy Up Your Self-Storage Work Environment

It isn’t always easy to foster and maintain a positive work environment at your self-storage operation, but the benefits make it well worth the effort. Follow these strategies to create a cheerful, productive workplace for staff and customers.

Tron Jordheim

January 13, 2020

6 Min Read
Accentuate the Positive: How to Buoy Up Your Self-Storage Work Environment

As a self-storage operator, you may find it challenging to create and maintain a positive work environment, but there are real benefits to doing so. Businesses that focus on positivity outperform others. Employee engagement and retention is higher. Customer retention and average lifetime value are also higher.

On the other hand, a negative workplace is terrible to work in and operate. It can even breed hostility. Customers don’t want to do business with a place like that. Think of movies like “Horrible Bosses” or “Little.” A sour work environment may be fodder for great comedy, but it certainly doesn’t breed staff productivity or customer satisfaction.

The question is, if a positive workplace is more pleasant and profitable, why don’t more owners and supervisors strive for it? If your goal is to crank up the positivity of your self-storage operation, here’s some guidance.

How Positive Are You?

Before we get into how to create and maintain a more positive self-storage workplace, let’s first determine where your business falls on the positive/negative spectrum. You know you have a positive workplace when:

  • You look forward to going to work and feel good when you’re there. You find it a refuge from the worries in your life. You’re glad to see employees as well as customers.

  • Your four- and five-star online reviews mention your staff. Customers feel well-treated, cared for and valued.

  • You have a hard time relating to and understanding other owners and supervisors who complain about how much they dislike their employees.

You know you have a negative workplace when:

  • You feel bad when you’re there. You find it stressful, and you avoid going into work.

  • Your one- and two-star reviews are about your employees. Rude, unempathetic staff are a sign your workplace is negative or the reason it is.

  • You’re the owner or supervisor whining about how you wish you didn’t have employees.

Don’t make the mistake of believing your workplace is fine just because you haven’t been sued for harassment. Harassment is a severe situation. You might still have a negative or even a hostile work environment in the absence of formal charges.

Pay attention to your employees. People who feel degraded, disrespected, unsupported and confused will often show physical and emotional symptoms. If you have people calling in sick a lot, you see employees becoming visibly upset, or you see staff bicker with each other, you have a problem.

How to Make and Keep Things Positive

Even if you fall into the positive category, are there areas where you fall a little short of ideal? Think about how you might be able to improve your work culture and atmosphere. Here are eight ways to cultivate and accentuate the positive.

1. Be clear. Have clear expectations and work rules. Short of a complete list of do’s and don’ts, every employee should at least know the five things one must never do and the those that are always great to do. For example, don’t just tell your staff to “Keep the front door clean.” Be specific: “You must clean the front door and ensure the glass is clean and free of hand prints and smudges by noon each day.”

2. Continuously develop your employees. Every day is an opportunity for training and encouragement. Be a cheerleader and a coach for your employees. Praise them when they make good decisions. Praise them even when they make questionable decisions if their reasoning was sound. If they make a poor decision, as long it isn’t on a “never do” list, use it as teaching moment and help them learn. Nearly every mistake is fixable and a learning opportunity. Your employees should become more confident and capable every week. Be as specific in your praise as you are in your corrections.

3. Demonstrate value. Tell your employees, “It was nice to see you today,” “It was good working with you today,” or “I’ll be glad to see you when I come by again next week.” Little gestures like this indicate you value them as people, and being valued as a person is one of the best experiences anyone can have during a workday. Of course, for this kind of behavior to have a positive impact, you have to mean it honestly.

4. Have social time. If it’s slow in the workplace for a while, announce, “OK, let’s put our work aside and visit for 15 minutes.” Socializing is super important. It helps reduce stress and increases staff rapport.

Consider scheduling social time. This isn’t a break—it’s on the clock. If you don’t make it clear that you want staff to socialize, and you don’t make time for them to do so, you’ll force them to do it on the sly. One of the easiest ways to destroy a positive environment is to tell people who are socializing to “Get back to work.” Instead, if you say, “Hey, it’s slow. Let’s take 15 minutes to visit before the next rush,” you’ll have a very different work culture.

5. Lead by example. Be kind to employees. Be kind to customers. Be helpful and supportive. Offer encouragement. (Note that I didn’t say to be a pushover.) When you have clear rules and procedures, you don’t have to stress. You’re free to show empathy and compassion to people with whom you work and who make you money.

6. Show backbone. Support employees when a customer is clearly wrong. Make it clear that you know customers aren’t always right. If a tenant is out of line, rude or abusive, support the employee. Correct or fire the customer. Back your employee 100 percent if he was following the rules.

By the same token, never allow employees to talk disrespectfully to or about customers. Correct that behavior quickly and forcefully. When an incident occurs, create a success story about customer engagement to share with others.

7. Fire employees with bad attitudes. Encourage your self-storage staff to be honest with you and call you out when you’re in the wrong. They should have a vested interest in protecting your interests and helping others be better at their jobs. They should also “train” customers to behave correctly. Of course, all this must be done respectfully and with kindness. If you have an employee who’s quick to lash out, acts disrespectful or is always causing tension, release that employee from his duties and do it now.

8. Check yourself. What are you complaining about? If you’re a self-storage owner or supervisor, you’re probably viewed as successful and accomplished by almost everyone you meet. So, get happy about that and don’t let the pressure of day-to-day business hassles bring you down. Take a walk. Go jump in a lake. Play with your dog. These distractions will help you reset your attitude and go about building a positive workplace for yourself, your staff and your customers.

Tron Jordheim is managing partner of Self Storage Strategies, a joint venture with Store Here Management that provides market studies, feasibility reports and consulting services to the self-storage industry. He’s a consultant in sales, marketing, call-center practices, lead creation and management. He’s also the author of three books, a regular speaker at industry events and a frequent contributor to trade journals. For more information call 573.268.5217; visit www.selfstoragestrategies.com.

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