Is Stress and Depression Increasing for Auto Repair Workers?

Management Articles, Auto Repair Life8 Comments

stress

Recent research has revealed a distressing trend of members of certain professions. The Centers for Disease Control stated that over the past twenty years the suicide rate of Americans has increased 40% and that auto repair workers are at a significantly higher risk for suicide than people of other demographics. Other research has linked higher divorce rates and work in this field. What is going on? Why are auto repair workers experiencing stress and negative outcomes like suicide and divorce?

Suicide Rates Are Up

The news about a rapidly rising suicide rate is bad enough, but it’s worse for workers in certain industries, including mining, the oilfields, construction, and auto repair. This information was gathered from 2016 responses to the National Violent Death Reporting system which was used in 32 states. The worst suicide rates were among construction workers and oil, gas, and mining workers, but statistics for auto repair workers were also high. 

“Previous research indicates suicide risk is associated with low-skilled work, lower education, lower absolute and relative socioeconomic status, work-related access to lethal means, and job stress, including poor supervisory and colleague support, low job control, and job insecurity,” the CDC wrote.

In addition, auto repair workers also experience higher divorce rates by age 30 according to U.S. Census data. The highest divorce rates were among first-line enlisted military supervisors (30%), but the next highest rates were among logisticians, auto service techs and mechanics, and then military in tactical operations and air weapons. 

“Some of the most demanding professions can be hardest on marriage, either because of time spent away, persistent danger or insufficient pay,” said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at personal-finance site Bankrate.com.

It’s easy to see why people who work in very dangerous fields or who work long hours and for long stretches away from home would feel more stress and how that would result in negative outcomes. Why are auto techs experiencing so many of these negative outcomes, though? 

The Stress of an Auto Repair Job

Everyone experiences and reacts to stress differently. It’s difficult to objectively rank stressful jobs in the various industries. If you go online and read what auto techs and other workers are saying, however, it’s clear that they are experiencing stress. They’re not hiding it. For example, here is one negative experience (among many) left on the job website indeed.com

“I have been in the industry for 13 years. I am master certified and have a decent house-sized investment in tools and equipment. I have made money in this industry (100k-ish/yr) but I have to say that, even at that price tag, it’s not worth it. The damage to my body, 80+ hr work weeks, and MASSIVE expense in tooling makes this a losing industry. What started as a hobby and something I was passionate about has turned into something I dread. Not to mention the stigma you will have to overcome taking this route. All mechanics/technicians are thieves and degenerates, right? I am educated, compassionate, and honest. Yet I still am classified as a lesser person because of my career choice. Apply yourself in something else where you will be respected, appreciated, and compensated fairly.”

Other reviews on indeed.com mention the physical toll the job takes on the body and how it can affect the worker’s ability to continue to work into middle age. A common complaint that we have often seen on our forums or in response to articles here at the Automotive Management Network is that the compensation for long hours, heavy work, and a huge investment in tools and certification is not nearly good enough. 

How much do auto techs make? In a previous blog we revealed that the median salary for mechanics and auto techs was $37,850 in 2015. The average hourly wage is $17.42. Benefits are also not guaranteed in this industry. Forty percent of auto techs do not get any medical benefits through their work. 

Many techs complain about the flat-rate pay system that keeps them working long hours in order to make decent pay with the bulk of the money from their work not going in their pockets. They look at plumbers and electricians who have comparable apprenticeship and tool requirements but are making significantly more money with median income rates of more than $50,000 annually. 

There are at least two factors at work here, then. The first is that auto repair is a job that can be difficult and physically punishing. The second is that for the amount of investment in terms of education and tools, workers believe it doesn’t pay enough. Many auto repair workers feel frustrated that they have large sunk costs but their financial future is not at all secure. That is where the stress comes from. How or whether that translates to negative outcomes depends on the person and the situation, of course. 

Have you experienced stress or depression as a result of working in this field? We want to hear from you. Please leave your comments either here or on our forums. 

 

8 Comments on “Is Stress and Depression Increasing for Auto Repair Workers?”

  1. The most valuable person in our shop is the employee, and all are treated with great respect. The industry has come a long way in terms of pay, and what I am seeing; is the person who makes themselves worth more, always gets more. The ones who just show up, are an obstacle to productivity. We are professionals, and in order to rise above we must, read current trade magazines, attend seminars, and do online testing weather you want to be certified or just see how you do with the sample tests. It is not an easy trade, and rest assured that your job can’t be exported.

  2. Now….NOW, it all adds up!!! I been preaching this since say…..1985. The premise of this article is exactly what pushed me into the US Navy. I literally walked off the job while attempting to heat some nuts that where encased in engine oil on a Buick Riviera, yeah white in color, I remember well. The oil kept igniting and dripping on me, lighting my uniform shirt (a uniform) are you kidding me? The oil was lighting my skin and hair, yeah I had hair, it was the eighties! Anyhow, I realized this line of work, while very fulfilling, was also so disproportionately fair. I’m on fire and the owner is not even in the building yet he gets $400 of the bill and I get like…..70. Ya know, that was more than a lot of shops would have paid me. But, I’d had enough! Click, click, tool box locked, out the door I went. I returned to the business in 1997 because I still had passion for the automobile and the “greasemonkey” atmosphere. Same crap, different decade. Here’s the thing, I ranted but look, all of you techs know, my story is just like yours. Either get out of that sleazy owners shop and work for yourself or read the info that was shared and accept the fact that you’re going to die with a butt ton of medical problems, another butt ton of tools, so many useless since there are no 1988 Chevy citations with a intermittent stalling issue that you bought that “””special tool” for and NOT a butt ton of money left to send your kids to school so they DON’T have this cycle happen to them! I digress…….

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for the informative post. I had to Google you to find you and your shop in Panama City, FL. What gives your thoughts and opinions credence with me is that your shop and crew have between a 4.9 and 5.0-star rating depending on what rating platform. Wow. I find that incredible. Keep up your great work and keep those thoughts and opinions coming!

  4. I am new in the auto repair business having only been in it for 4 decades plus but I still have some observations . It is super easy to compile a list of the things are are wrong or just plain not so great so I wont go there. It causes me to be depressed.
    I have honestly gone by the rule that I will do my best on every job, sure as a flat rate tech I beat book at least 50% of the time and I suppose the book beat me at least 25% of the time, but I would look at the big picture, you win some you loose some.
    I do get depressed when I am being beat into submission by a problem child that wont say uncle and I think that’s very painful, but no pain,no gain. Pain can help us grow, but it can also kill us.
    Todays cars are more complex and challenging then they used to be, a challenge can be considered just that or it can be looked at as a pain in the ass, either way too much challenge can be overwhelming.And when you are overwhelmed of course you can get depressed.
    I like to make money but have at some point taken the approach that if honesty didn’t exist and somebody invented it, it would be the biggest money maker ever invented! I enjoy being told I am honest and that I am appreciated, I hear it everyday, mostly by my customers.
    I believe we have thrown out the word servitude in our culture, it seems to be so rare. I tell my employees to repair vehicles as if they belong to a family member, anything less is hypocritical, right?
    I am torn between talking young people into this business and telling them to run but I really feel any blue collar job is going to pay off in the future due to supply and demand(even with electric cars that are sure to decrease our work load) most young people and their parents don’t want them to do it. I didn’t want my kids in this business unless they loved it. If you ask most shop owners if they are urging their kids to get in this business they would probably say no, unless they have it figured out, you know ,the 2% (my guess, I cant back that up) that have true freedom because they own a shop and have learned how to run it and not have it run them.
    My wife says I am successful, we did 1.2 million in sales last year.We were voted the best shop in our county multiple times but the time and stress I have had to put into it leaves me little time for hobbies and many of my relationships have suffered.
    It’s a stressful job, especially being a master tech, it goes unappreciated sometimes. I never wanted to be the old guy that says “this generation is weak and every generation gets weaker” but you tell me. I feel weaker than my parents and grandparents. John Wayne is dead.
    Tesla does not advertise, they don’t have to, everybody that gets one tells friends and neighbors how great it is! Do we do that when it comes to our chosen profession, I don’t, I’m too honest to blow a bunch of sunshine up anybody’s wazoo.
    Can we change things to make the job more attractive? Yes, but just like the 11 x 40 storage unit I have that’s full junk and some good stuff its going to take time and its going to be painful to sort it all out.
    I think you have to start out with benefits.My guys get full benefits and three of them make more money than I do, still I feel as though I am walking on thin ice. They don’t take criticism well and have threatened to quit. I do everything I can to make there jobs easier and to retain them.
    It’s overwhelming even though I have a great manager who has been with me over 20 years, without him I would have been out a long time ago.
    I think a u tube based guy who gives techs a pep talk and encouragement might be a good step too. It must be real though, we can all see right through that bull that propels the world these days, maybe a Zig Ziglar for the auto tech!
    Well , time to encourage and put out brush fires! Battle on my friends!Your work is important!

  5. There’s no shortage of crying techs online. If they don’t like it, my vote is to do something about it instead of whinning online about it.

    I entered this profession in the mid-1970s. It didn’t take me long to figure out the highest paying area of automotive repair was automatic transmissions. However, the study time on my own time was enormous. Luckily, I’m a voracious reader and enrolled in a community college automatic transmission class. I have never regretted my chosen profession… ever. Sure, there’s ups and downs, but what field doesn’t have ups and downs?

    My first transmission job as a rebuilder paid me $26K/yr. in 1975 which would be $124,188/yr. in today’s dollars. Later, I worked a transmission tech in a dealership for 8 months before I learned I would never work the antiquated flat rate system again. The company’s marketing (or lack thereof) and the ability to attract work was totally all my risk. Never again.

    I took my ability to make money for granted in that I wanted to make even more money, so I opened my first shop. That was my first major pay cut. Long story made short, 2 homes, 2 businesses, and 2 divorces later I finally was back up to making more than I ever made in my life. And yes, alcohol abuse was involved but that was on me, not my profession, wife, pressure, depression, etc.

    I’ve had a very colorful life to say the least and if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t choose another profession because what was once my teenage hobby became my profession. Very few people can claim the avocation became their vocation. I love transmissions and always will. This is to all the winners in our chosen profession. Thanks for listening.

  6. I have been in this industry for 44 years. Unfortunetly, we live in a society that does not value blue collar skills. Good technicians are very underpaid. With that said I would say that many technicians are their own worst enemies. The things that really hurt:
    1. Tech was too high/drunk/hungover to do my job right.
    2. Tech brags to anyone who will listen how he/she “beat the book” regularly.
    3. Tech ignores available training and certification testing.
    4. Tech dosen’t do good check outs on vehicles/fail to recommend needed services.
    5. Tech is willing to work for low pay, dosen’t ask for a raise.
    6. Tech has his/her own side work, this devalues the going rates for repairs.
    Other big problem: Service writers and shop owners who give away services/repairs. Service writers who don’t sell the needed repairs and services. If we let our industry be price driven we all are signing up for low pay.

  7. I became a mechanic after high school and lived it for years, despite continued lower wages than my peers in other trades. As I passed forty I had gone to physiology for back and shoulder strains and luckily I had benefits. I found the flat rate system was a way for employers to not pay you when it was slow. You had to literally work yourself to the bone. Now in my fifties I have switched to heavy equipment for more stable and better pay. But to have about 60000 in personal tools and many years of upgrading and ongoing education and tool purchase I see guys at my own company building scaffolds and making 20 to 30000 dollars more than me per year. Any young person I see I always steer them away from this trade. Poor pay and huge investment in tools is a definite detractor!!!

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