5 Tips for Better Employee Relations

A longtime business owner explains his employee management philosophy
5 Tips for Better Employee Relations
The combined staff and crew of Sludgebusters Inc. and European Portable Sanitation Service: (from left) Ubaldo Orozco, Nahum Martinez, Austin Williams, Peter Salcedo, Alma Salcedo, Joe Kapelczak, Yvonne Kapelczak, Ed Kapelczak, Aurora Torres, Claudia Aguirre, Penney Caratachea and Bryan Scruggs.

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How does a small business with limited opportunity for wage increases and promotions keep good employees? Ed Kapelczak and his wife Yvonne employ 10 people for their Ramona, California, septic service business Sludgebusters Inc. and restroom business European Portable Sanitation Service. They run the combined companies like a family – “even to the point where we have little squabbles,” Kapelczak says.

Kapelczak says new hires who find they don’t like the work usually leave around the three-month mark. Otherwise his employees tend to stick with him long-term. Although he insists he doesn’t have the magic formula for making perfect hires every time, he says he’s only laid off six people since opening the business in 1988. And it’s not just luck that the company’s employees are reliable, take pride in their work and deal amiably with customers.

Kapelczak’s employee management philosophy includes these practices:

1. Walk the walk. “I still go out and clean septic tanks,” Kapelczak says. “That way if something goes wrong, I don’t have too much trouble believing it.”

2. Let people make mistakes and have bad days. When one of his crew members gets stuck in mud or sand, Kapelczak doesn’t get upset. He just goes out and rescues them. He figures people learn from their mistakes, not from being reprimanded.

3. Listen. “You don’t get fired for yelling back at your boss here,” Kapelczak says. “My people will scold me from time to time when I’m messing something up. Everybody has input here and it matters. That way problems can get solved." 

4. Avoid layoffs. Kapelczak does everything he can to keep his employees when times get tough. “We’ll find work for them to do when there is none, even if we have to do a job at cost, just to keep everybody employed.” He’ll also do work he’d normally refer to other contractors. Everyone’s cross-trained for septic service and portable sanitation, so if one part of the business is slow, workers help out on the other.

5. Trust. Drivers plan their own routes and are responsible for their schedules. And Kapelczak does not worry when he can’t be there. “I don’t usually leave, but if I have to, we just give them total autonomy and they’re in charge. They always just do what’s right.”

Kapelczak knows his employees are the most important part of his business. “I’m very blessed to have the people that I have,” he says. 

Read more about Sludgebusters in this month’s issue of Pumper magazine.


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