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Doling Out Consequences: Administering Staff Discipline and Termination at Your Self-Storage Operation

Your self-storage employees are human, which means they’re going to make mistakes. They might even do things wrong on purpose. In time, every facility owner or supervisor has to discipline a team member or let one go. It’s unpleasant but necessary. Here’s advice for setting expectations, implementing a punitive process and protecting your business.

Pamela Alton

October 21, 2023

6 Min Read
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There comes a time in every self-storage owner’s or supervisor’s career when they need to discipline one of their employees. As unpleasant as it can be, being unprepared for this moment can create problems for you and your operation. It’s crucial to have a plan for how to proceed when the time comes.

There are many situations that may call for staff discipline. A team member who’s habitually late for their assigned shift or constantly on their personal cell phone while at work are common examples, as are being rude to customers or other employees, displaying a bad attitude, and failing to follow company policies and procedures. Worse, you may discover that someone is stealing money or company property. In each case, disciplinary action, including termination when warranted, must be handled in a professional, timely manner.

Following is advice to help you formulate or revise your plan for employee correction or termination, plus tips for preventing bad behavior in the first place.

Discipline

Disciplining your self-storage employees begins with verbal counseling and warnings. When a staff member does something that requires action, have a formal conversation about it and remind them of your policies. Tell them what they did wrong and ask them to repeat it back to you to confirm they understand the infraction and how it needs to be corrected.

To document the process, note the time and date of the discussion, then send a follow-up email to the employee and place a copy in their personnel file. If all goes well, you may never have to go any further than this, but it’s important to have a record in case subsequent warnings are needed or you wind up progressing to termination.

I recommend using an escalating, three-strike policy in which you issue three verbal and then three written warnings. Always give the employee a reasonable amount of time and opportunity to correct any wrongdoings or policy violations. Anyone can mess up once or twice, but if they’ve received six total warnings—three verbal and three written—it may be time to terminate.

Again, document everything, as this will  demonstrate to the Employment Development Department or other unemployment agency that you did everything possible to work with the team member before firing. In addition, follow your own written guidelines as outlined in your policies manual to establish that you’re in the right when you let someone go. It’s the legal and safe way to keep your company out of hot water if you face a wrongful-termination suit.

Termination

So, the day has come. You need to terminate your problem self-storage employee. You’ll need to call them into your corporate office for this conversation, but first, have their final paycheck ready for them and include any bonus due or vacation pay.

During your meeting, review the disciplinary action you’ve taken with this person, including all verbal and written warnings. Discuss what they did wrong, including repeat offenses and other violations, to establish why they’re being let go. Be truthful and succinct. No one wants to drag this out. And remember: This isn’t personal. Your employee may be upset. Don’t get emotional or sucked into their drama. Listen but be professional, then move on to the next steps.

At this time, you’ll need to collect, or arrange to obtain, any company keys, uniforms or equipment in the employee’s possession, for example a laptop, digital camera, etc. Once the meeting is over, hand them their final paycheck and wish them well.

Now, let’s spend a moment on the topic of resident management. Though this is less common in the self-storage industry than it used to be, some companies still use it, and terminating a manager in this case is more complicated. It’s best to prep for the employee’s exit during the hiring process by having them sign an apartment lease. It should cover things like who can live in the residence, what pets are allowed (if any), how utilities are handled and what happens if there’s any property damage. This’ll help eliminate unpleasant surprises once they vacate.

Most important, the agreement should state that the staff member can live in the onsite apartment, rent free, week to week, as long as they’re employed by your company. Make sure there’s a clause that stipulates a time allowance for them to vacate once employment ends. Seven days is typical. This gives them time to pack and move out.

The apartment lease is protection. The last thing you want is to fight a disgruntled former manager who refuses to leave the premises. A formal eviction process can take 45 days or longer. If you end up in court, having a signed contract is a supporting piece of documentation in your favor.

Training as Prevention

Perhaps the best solution to employee behavior or performance that requires discipline is to avoid it occurring in the first place! Thorough staff training should be part of the onboarding process for every new hire, even if they have extensive experience in self-storage. Employees need to know what the consequences can be if they fail to follow company rules or meet expectations.

Not all self-storage facilities are operated the same way. There are a lot of areas in which things can differ, including hours of operation, rent due dates, rate management, etc. Every facility in the state should be adhering to your state’s lien law, but how companies meet those requirements can vary. If you’re hiring a new employee from out of state, they’ll need to be brought up to speed.

To ward off discipline-worthy incidents, training needs to be about more than tasks. You have to go beyond using facility-management software, implementing daily office procedures, and performing facility maintenance. You also need to review the section of your policies and procedures manual that outlines disciplinary action and termination. This’ll help bring everyone onto the same page and set expectations.

Adhere to Your Process

Verbal warnings, formal write-ups and terminations aren’t fun, but they’re a necessary part of operating a self-storage business. Hiring mistakes happen. Cutting your losses can help get your business back on track. Remember, a great facility employee is worth their weight in gold, but a bad one can cost you thousands!

Having a plan and adhering to your written policies and procedures can lessen the pain and protect your company from unnecessary hardship. Don’t be held hostage by a mediocre or bad manager. The right one for you is out there!

Pamela Alton is owner of Mini-Management Services, which has been placing self-storage managers in positions all over the United States since 1991. She also offers staff training, operational consulting, and facility audits and inspections. For more information, call 321.890.2245; email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Pamela Alton

Owner, Mini-Management Services

Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management Services, a company that has been placing self-storage managers in positions all over the United States since 1991. She also offers staff training, operational consulting, and facility audits and inspections. For more information, call 321.890.2245; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.mini-management.com.

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