Much has been written about staffing difficulties plaguing business owners. If anything, the situation has become worse — much worse since the omicron variant started making its presence felt. Personnel shortages now abound not only because of difficulties in recruiting suitable candidates, but also because of the absence of existing employees due to infection or illness. One need only consider the disastrous effect omicron had on airline schedules during the holiday season.

While air travel affects but a small sliver of the overall population, worker shortages are impacting the daily lives of the average Joe: stores are curtailing business hours; in New Mexico, the National Guard is stepping in to fill the vacuum left by ill teachers; restaurants are closing off sections of their dining rooms to not overburden skeletal serving crews; store shelves are emptying out due, in part, to a shortage in the United States of 80,000 truck drivers.

Car wash operators have not been spared these challenges. In our August 2021 issue, Bobby Willis relates some of the aggravation his organization has experienced: from high spending on help-wanted ads to new recruits walking off the job after a few hours to new hires simply not showing up for their first shift. Willis follows up with a list of solid suggestions to help operators find the right employee for their wash.

Mark Battersby’s article, “Where Are the Workers,” (starting on page 50 in this issue) expands on the theme by answering the question, “What do workers want?” Turns out that money, while important, is only one of many factors that attract today’s workers. If your compensation and benefits package still doesn’t do the trick, Battersby suggests recruiting from groups traditionally facing barriers to employment — and earning a tax credit to boot.

Car wash operators have been pursuing Battersby’s final suggestion — i.e., working without workers — for several years now. Automation has come a long way in the car wash industry, particularly in the guise of the express-exterior format but, while it has been able to substantially shrink staffing requirements, it has yet to succeed in eliminating all labor. Reduced labor? That’s at the heart of Robert Roman’s article, “Cell Production,” on page 18 in this issue. Roman writes that cell production not only allows for fewer employees as compared to the in-line process found at traditional full-service washes, it also promotes teamwork, lets employees see how their efforts contribute to a final product, and builds morale.

Employees’ relationships with their co-workers and managers are as important to them as the work itself, writes Pamela Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing, in a post that first appeared in The Robin Report. She refers to research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) that found employees’ relationships with managers are one of the most critical factors in why retail employees quit. The solution: better training throughout the management structure. “They are not just managers, but need to be leaders,” she quotes Nate Shenck, BCG’s head of retail in North America.

Top-down management is a non-starter for next gen employees, according to Danziger. “Collaboration and having a voice are job requirements,” she writes. Yet, “employees with the most customer engagement are organizationally the least empowered to make critical business decisions in the interest of the customer. That must change.”