Looking to increase productivity? Focus on employee well-being

April 20, 2016
Suggestions for increasing productivity at auto-service centers often include practical improvements such as advanced technician training and reducing workspace inefficiencies. But focusing on employees’ well-being can provide a major boon as well.

Leadership at Don Jacobs Paint and Body Shop in Lexington, Ky., knows that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your business. By improving the work environment for its technicians, Don Jacobs boosted productivity, making it easier for technicians to do their job better than before.

Suggestions for increasing productivity at auto-service centers often include practical improvements such as advanced technician training and reducing workspace inefficiencies. But focusing on employees’ well-being can provide a major boon as well. For example, studies have shown employees become less productive when the temperature rises above 77 degrees F. Simply by keeping employees comfortable – or by improving light levels or ventilating disruptive fumes – employees can increase throughput at their garage.

Don Jacobs handles every kind of repair, from the smallest ding to the biggest smash-up. Though its technicians routinely received high marks from customers, conditions inside the shop made it hard for them to focus entirely on their work. Too often, they weren’t physically comfortable, and lack of comfort can hurt anyone’s productivity. Though the shop has an HVAC system, registers are positioned near the ceiling. In winter, the forced hot air blew in far above the shop floor and stayed there. The result was that workers often struggled to stay warm. And in summer, despite air conditioning, the service bays were uncomfortably hot, partly because of another roadblock to productivity: old-school halogen lights.

Technician Jim Slone described the problem this way: “The lights ran at about 280 degrees F. The cold air would have to pass by the lights, and by the time the air reached the floor, it felt like it was heated.” The halogen fixtures were heavy power users, and by also heating the air that was supposed to cool the space, not only were the halogen lights making the AC less energy-efficient, they were sapping employees’ energy, too.

The company decided it was time to make an investment in the facility that would boost employees’ productivity by improving comfort and visibility. Don Jacobs installed four new large-diameter ceiling fans– two in the body shop side, one in the paint department and one in detailing, and replaced old halogen lights with high-performance, energy-efficient LED fixtures that make the workplace brighter yet produce an insignificant amount of heat. Additionally, LED task lights go anywhere more foot candles are needed.

Slone says morale among his co-workers has definitely improved. Not only is everyone more productive, but the quality of the work has improved too.

‘HVLS’ improves morale

Large-diameter ceiling fans – commonly known as High Volume, Low Speed (HVLS) fans – create benefits in virtually every setting and can result in significant energy savings, too. An HVLS fan changes the environment by moving massive amounts of air. That steady circulation affects the perceived temperature, making workers feel up to 10 degrees F cooler when temperatures rise.

In service centers and body shops, the fans boost productivity by creating greater thermal comfort, a term that refers to a sense of occupant satisfaction with the conditions in an environment. Improving thermal comfort boosts employees’ level of contentment, and happy workers quite simply are more productive. They’re no longer stepping away from the job to take extra breaks and also don’t suffer from the lethargy that takes place as temperatures rise, an early symptom of heat stress. The number of auto centers and other shops and businesses that use HVLS fans is growing as owners learn they are both cost- and comfort-effective.

That’s the case at Don Jacobs, where the four HVLS fans have improved air circulation and made the HVAC system more effective. Workers who used to be “soaked in sweat in summer,” says Slone, are now comfortable and more productive. And in winter, the fans push the warm air down from the ceiling so technicians no longer have to bundle up to keep warm.

And with the switch to LEDs, the cooler air from the AC is no longer heated up by the old red-hot halogens as it makes its way to floor level.

 “The air from the A/C runs past the LEDs and there’s no heat on them,” says Slone.

In other shops nationwide, HVLS fans have also boosted productivity by eliminating the need for individual and box fans, which can clutter up a workspace and create tripping hazards, while attracting hot workers like a magnet. At Capital GMC/Buick/Cadillac in Regina, Sasketchewan, techs relied on floor fans in the summer that collected dust and grime, and detracted from the clean look of the facility. A large HVLS fan took care of that problem.

And fans improve odors and air quality by clearing exhaust buildup, too. At West Coast Customs in Burbank, Calif., the fans have definitely improved the working conditions. “Even with a lot of exhaust in the shop, the fans keep the air clean,” says West Coast founder Ryan Friedlinghaus.

LEDs bring clarity to tasks

In terms of productivity, one of the main things that people notice when they switch to LEDs is the immediate response time. There’s no more waiting, sometimes 20 minutes or more, for metal halides or fluorescents common in facilities to warm up to full brightness. Those extra minutes each day can add up to a significant chunk of time each month that’s devoted to working instead of waiting.

LEDs also hold a big advantage over other forms of lighting because of their longevity. High-quality LED fixtures are rated for 150,000 hours, or 17 years of round-the-clock use. A retrofit, done well, should last for well more than a decade, and its cost benefit is partially calculated on the fact that LEDs require little to no maintenance. Less maintenance equals added productivity, because employees are no longer clambering up and down ladders to replace burnt-out fixtures.

But by far the greatest effect that LED fixtures have on productivity is the one that’s most apparent to the naked eye – their tremendous light output in comparison to other fixtures. Adequately lighting a body shop requires more than just increasing brightness – LEDs like those Don Jacobs installed also have a color-rendering index and color temperature similar to natural daylight.

Besides the lights on the ceiling, the shop uses LED task lights. The direct light output, daylight qualities and sheer brightness of the lights lend themselves well to sight-sensitive tasks. Lights above work benches increase foot candles where they’re needed most. Mobile light stands allow the technicians to employ the benefits of task LEDs in the only place light from overhead fixtures can’t go – underneath the cars. Additionally, diffused lenses reduce glare on shiny, painted parts while still providing superior visibility.

At Don Jacobs, Slone says the LEDs have made paint-matching and buffing a breeze, and technicians are able to see every little fleck or scratch that shouldn’t be there. Thanks to the LEDs and the HVLS fans, not only is the team more productive, but they’re able to take greater pride in their work, because now they can clearly see the quality.

Vicky Broadus is a writer for Big Ass Fans and Big Ass Light. The company, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, assembles, sells and installs LEDs for all spaces and high-volume, low-speed fans. 

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