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Productivity Versus Tension: Find Your Relief Valve - And Use It

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Dennis Mc

 This diagram represents what happens to employee productivity as tension in stores increases.

It is safe to say that 2020 was a stressful year. Nearly every facet of your business was pushed to the limit, and while 2021 seems to be shaping up as an improvement over last year, the first half is not without its challenges. 

With the unresolved weight of 2020 still on our backs and an uneven beginning to this year expected, it is important to remember that everyone who works in your store is dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety.  

There is still the risk of COVID-19 hitting your store and employees - and all the frightening complications that can potentially follow. 

Working in retail tire and automotive was never a nirvana of tranquility, but the stress of these last 12 months has put even the most serene people on the brink.

This month, I would like to speak about a topic that is a well-known concept in and around most businesses and management schools. The diagram above represents what happens to employee productivity as tension in stores increases.

Many managers believe the old maxim that “happy workers make the best workers” and that is just untrue. Happy workers are content. They are OK with the status quo. And that kind of thinking is catastrophic to productivity.  

Workers need a compelling reason to produce for someone - or something - else. It could be a personal reason, like making rent on time or buying a present for a loved one or the satisfaction of being the best worker. It could be an outside reason, like the threat of being replaced by a better worker or the possibility of a store closing because it is losing money.  

Workers are most productive when the right amount of tension exists. And “right amount” is an extremely important  term here.

To be clear, tension is a state slightly beyond relaxed, up to where the condition known as stress sets in. Tension compels activity. Activity, when guided properly, creates productivity, efficiency and profit.  

The proper amount of tension at work is identified as the area within the red box in the diagram. Additionally, tension is not a stagnant thing. It’s not a thermostat set to 71 degrees. Every day has to be measured relative to many factors. It is a fluid entity.

Stress occurs when there is too much tension. Instead of focusing on the work needed to reduce tension, the focus falls on the tension itself. It becomes overwhelming and fear sets in - fear of the boss having a meltdown, fear of cars not being finished, fear of customers being upset or even the fear of getting sick. 

Stress is a killer of productivity.

I bring this up this month because stress also can be a silent assassin. It lurks in corners and builds up over time. Stress needs to be confronted and dealt with on a regular basis.  

Think of this as an oil change for your employees. Stress needs to be managed properly and routinely. Otherwise, there could be long-term damage like burn-out, loss of pride in work and/or lower productivity.

Every shop needs to have a relief valve for stress. The more frequently you relieve this valve, the shorter the duration of the suffering. The longer you wait - well, the longer you will wait when you let out the steam.  

Pay attention to the mood at your dealership. It’s ok to work in short bursts of intense activity, with a laser focus on getting results and reaching for the brass ring. Keep in mind, though, that everyone has been in this loop - this high-alert status - for nearly 12 months.  

There are lots of things you can do to lower the stress or balance the tension. 

You could give a random employee a paid day off. Behind the scenes, of course, you would plan for this and make sure the business can sustain itself without that individual’s presence. But to the employee, it will come as a nice surprise.  

You could also treat an employee to a “lunch with the boss." You serve them. You pick up the tab. You make that person a king or a queen for an hour.  There are a lot of things you can do if you put some thought into it.

Please be mindful of tension and stress on yourself, as well. Just plowing through things is not productive. It’s wasteful. Take care of your employees. But take care of yourself, too.

Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers, one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry ( To contact McCarron, email him at


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