Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Walkout

After being given the official title of Human Resources Manager at my workplace, I started talking with individual employees.  The new owner has been running things for over a year now, so there have been a lot of ups and downs that the team has had to ride out.  The team is a good one, and the teamwork is building very well.  So, I expected employee engagement to be on the rise.  I expected some complaints, suggestions for improvement, and challenges to face.  But what I found was a very dissatisfied lot!  The entire team was on the verge of staging a walkout!

I work from home, so I decided to spend a few hours in the shop to see how their work conditions really were.  I witnessed the boss have a melt-down when his employee left for lunch.  I saw that all of the employees were very disgusted by his reaction.  So, I asked him to explain to me what the issue was.  He said, "Gerald just left us high and dry!"  I said, "Where did he go?"  He said, "I don't know, that's the problem.  He just disappears on us!"  I asked the receptionist if she knew where he had gone.  "To lunch, I think."  I asked her to confirm whether he had clocked out or not.  She said he had.  The I asked the boss when Gerald was supposed to go to lunch.  "He's supposed to go at 11:30"  I said, "Well, since it is 12:30 I suppose he was getting rather hungry.  But why didn't he go at 11:30?" I already knew the answer was that Gerald had been waiting on the boss to return to cover the front sales counter and the boss had been late.  Further, when the boss arrived, he did not relieve Gerald, but hid in the back to avoid me (I had an 11am appointment with the boss which appointment he had missed and apparently did not intend to hold even though I had stuck around).  The boss claimed not to know why Gerald hadn't gone to lunch at his usual time, but emphasized that the problem lie in leaving his post with no one watching the front counter.  I said, "Well, he did take care of all of the waiting customers before taking his leave.  And he did clock out.  And he is allowed a lunch break.  And the receptionist is keeping an eye out for customers, so I still don't see the problem."  The boss said, "Well, why does it have to be a big mystery?!?"  I said, "When he asked you if you'd like to have him bring you some lunch, that didn't tip you off to his plans?  That would have been the right time to say, 'I need you to delay your lunch until I've finished with ____'."  (The boss didn't realize that I had been privy to that conversation.)

Then I spoke to our technician.  He was upset because the boss would hardly speak to him and when he had cornered the boss to find out why, he had been told that he was working too slowly.  But the job he was just hired to do is one that takes a year to learn and after 3 days of training, he'd been left on his own to just "figure it out, that's what I'm paying you for."  Poor guy has been having to read the instruction sheets to install parts--and you know the instructions were written in Chinese and translated into English by a German.  Gee, I wonder why he's so slow--duh!  And the installation that was "taking too long" was done perfectly and the customer left us extremely happy with his purchase.  And I checked with our sales manager who used to be our head installer and he confirmed that the project was a difficult one if you'd never installed that part before.  So, again, what is the problem?  Or rather--who is the problem?

After speaking to the others, I realized that they all loved their jobs, loved the work and the customers and coworkers, the hours and even the low pay were satisfactory.  But the treatment they--and at times even customers--received by the owner was unbearable.  

A customer had witnessed one of the boss's fits and overheard bits of the team's subsequent conference attempting to meet his unreasonable demands with the least inconvenience to clients.  They devised a game plan and went their separate ways to tackle their respective assignments.  The receptionist noticed the customer's inquisitive gaze and apologized for the scene.  He said that as a manager of grocery store for 15 years, the only option the employees had was to wait for the busiest time of day and walk off the job, leaving the fallout to their unappreciative boss.  He had no idea how many times that suggestion had been entertained between the staff!

I begged them all to allow me time to address the issue with the boss, before they took such a drastic step.  So, I have my work cut out for me!

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