EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of six stories that take a look at what makes a dealership one of Automotive News Canada’s 25 Best Dealerships to Work For. You can read previous stories here.
A standing offer for staff at Volvo of Edmonton to see a sports psychologist predates the pandemic, but it was not until COVID-19 struck that dealer principal Michael Norris saw a surge in interest from employees.
Since the dealership put the program in place a little more than two years ago, appointments with the psychologist have swelled by as much as 10 times, Norris said. The added stress of the pandemic is the big cause, he said.
“COVID is a deadly virus, but it’s also a much more mental health issue for the vast majority of people,” Norris said. Most employees will not get COVID-19 but are coping with the loss of family or friends or the changes the pandemic has wrought, he said.
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Along with covering staff visits to the sports psychologist, the Volvo dealership maintains a chaplaincy program, giving employees yet another outlet for talking through problems they encounter at work or home. Both programs are designed to address stress and mental health issues that management is not equipped to handle.
“It has changed the whole environment,” Norris said, adding that the reemphasis on mental health has helped get the team through the pandemic thus far.
WELL-BEING AS A BENEFIT
This novel approach by Volvo of Edmonton is one in a series of methods that Automotive News Canada’s 25 Best Dealerships To Work For are taking to address employee health and well-being.
Jaguar-Land Rover Winnipeg, for instance, has partnered with a health care consulting firm, giving employees the opportunity to consult a health adviser to build a wellness plan.
The dealership, part of Winnipeg-based Birchwood Automotive Group, covers the cost of the initial consultation, with subsequent steps coordinated with the employee benefits program.
Having a diversified health care team — which includes physiotherapists, nutritionists and massage therapists, among other specialists — all under one roof simplifies the process for staff, said MaryAnn Kempe, chief human resources officer at Birchwood, which, according to its website, owns 22 dealerships. This program “allows for a collaborative and safe approach to make adjustments and help our team members reach their wellness goals,” Kempe said.
All but four of the 25 top dealerships offer an employee assistance program to provide counseling for marital problems, substance abuse or other problems, according to Automotive News Canada’s 2021 Best Dealerships survey. Eight of the 25, meanwhile, host on-site personal development or stress management classes or seminars.
And when it comes to physical health, a slim majority have either an on-site gym or offer to subsidize external gym memberships for staff.
MANDATORY TIME OFF
Promoting a healthier work-life balance has been another focus for dealers as the pandemic disrupts the conventional workday.
COVID-19 has only added to the “regular” stress of working in retail, said David Krause, general manager at Volkswagen Waterloo in Ontario. To ensure staff has time to recharge, Krause said, managers have been encouraging or even mandating time off. The dealership has also made it clear that staff are not expected to be available 24/7, either.
“The pandemic unfortunately highlighted how fragile and precious life is,” Krause said. “You need to make time to cherish and be present for your family and friends, not chained to your laptop or mobile phone.”
Norris has taken a similar approach at Volvo of Edmonton, mandating holidays for burnt-out workers and in some instances even footing the bill for employees and their families to take a long weekend off to ski or relax in the nearby Rockies.
At Mercedes-Benz Brampton in Ontario, what had been planned to be a temporary change turned permanent to help employees better balance their work and homes lives.
“The automotive industry has always had longer, later hours,” said Nicole Romero, the dealership’s human resources manager. “This pandemic originally forced us to change our hours. But as restrictions eased and hours were allowed to open up again, we found ourselves keeping the new hours.”
Many of the dealership’s employees have worked in automotive for years without being able to obtain the sort of work-life balance the new hours offer, Romero said.