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A Manager Lets The Store Owner Down When She Closes Up Without Permission

He was rushed to the hospital with heart problems. Now he has a management problem.

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JACK RODRIGUEZ COULDN’T have imagined working anywhere else. He started at Joe Fischer’s downtown store when he was just a 16-year-old high school student. Jack was the manager by the time Joe moved the store to a suburban shopping center 10 years later, and he continued to assume more responsibility as the store’s reputation, volume and market share grew.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

Emily Allen was hired along the way as the assistant manager, with the expectation that she would eventually assume the manager’s role as Jack continued to take over more of the company’s operational responsibilities from Joe.

In 2012, Joe offered Jack the opportunity to buy into Fischer’s as an equal partner with his nephew Steven, who had been serving for the past 15 years as the store’s diamond buyer and appraiser. Jack and Steven had always worked well together, even though everyone agreed that Jack was the easygoing “half-full” type while Steven was the more skeptical, “half-empty” person.

They divided business responsibilities along clearly defined lines. Steven handled the merchandising and Jack handled all things operational, including staffing and general management. The only real point of contention between the two was Emily. Jack appreciated her laidback style and the ease with which she related to the rest of their six-person sales team and to their customers. He valued her loyalty and was willing to overlook her occasional ”family crisis,” inattention to detail and discomfort with conflict.

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Steven always saw Emily as a bit lazy and often complained about what he saw as her inflexibility and her inability to maintain a level of discipline with the staff. Emily simply learned to look at Steven’s frequent criticism as part of “his way,” and to rely on Jack for support. After nearly 20 years with the company, she felt comfortable with her job. She was paid well, and the store’s easy hours (closed on Sunday and Monday, and only open past 6 p.m. on Thursday) gave her the time she needed to keep a positive balance between work and home.

The past year was tough on everyone at Fischer’s. They were able to take advantage of federal and local assistance programs to keep all of their employees paid through eight weeks of COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, but business was slow to come back after reopening. By the end of summer, the continued drop in revenue necessitated cuts in staff and open hours.

Jack and Emily crafted a plan, working with their two remaining salespeople, to rebuild a “concierge business,” starting with their existing client base. They spent the fall making personal calls and sending emails, checking on clients and re-establishing relationships. It didn’t take long for their efforts to begin to pay off.

Jack was beginning to believe they had weathered the storm as he drove to his doctor’s office one Thursday morning in mid-January for a checkup. His family was healthy, he had made it through his own bout with COVID-19, business was picking up, and Steven was enjoying a long overdue week off at his family’s lake house.

Overall, Jack was feeling pretty good for a guy in his mid-50s — that is, until his doctor put him through a stress test that proved to be anything but routine. Several additional tests confirmed the doctor’s suspicions: Jack had serious obstructions in several major coronary arteries and needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately.

Jack’s first call was to his wife, and his second was to Emily, who was scheduled to leave at 3 p.m. since it was Jack’s turn to cover the evening shift. He explained the situation and said that he needed her to stay through closing, since it appeared he’d be in the hospital at least overnight. She told him she had a commitment that evening she wasn’t comfortable breaking, but that she would see about getting the store’s office manager (and only other key holder) to close. The conversation ended there, as Jack was whisked off to face yet another procedure.

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Late the next day, Jack called the store from his hospital bed to report that he was doing well and to see how things were going. He spoke with the office manager, who quickly apologized for her inability to help out with closing the night before.

Confused, Jack asked if Emily was able to rearrange her plans. He was surprised to learn that Emily had simply chosen to close the store at 5 p.m. — a full three hours early — rather than cancel her plans to attend her son’s college basketball game (the first she had been able to attend in a year, due to the pandemic).

Jack was angry and disappointed. Besides the fact that the decision to close the store early was beyond Emily’s scope of authority, he felt betrayed by her apparent lack of concern for — and loyalty to — Fischer’s. He found himself thinking that maybe Steven had been right about Emily all along — and wondering what other business decisions she’d been making without his knowledge or consent.

Despite his doctor’s firm instruction to avoid stressful situations, he couldn’t help but think about how he would confront her when he returned to the store.

The Big Questions

  • How much does a business owner really have a right to expect from an employee with regard to flexibility and time?
  • Was Emily out of line in her decision to close early when both she and the other key holder had family commitments that evening?
  • Should Jack confront Emily or just leave it alone?
Leanne G.
Pagosa Springs, CO

Jack was unable to fulfill his obligation as the store manager to work his shift because of a medical emergency and is upset with Emily because she did not stay to close? That’s ridiculous. Sometimes, life and family are more important than keeping a store open. Emily wanted to see her son play basketball. That is important. She was not able to get coverage. This was all a last-minute emergency. Everyone should give each other some slack. They’ve worked hard to keep the store open, but also this pandemic has illustrated for many that some things are more important than work. Emily did what was best for her and should not be reprimanded nor punished for her decision any more than Jack should be for having a medical emergency.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

I can understand a little of the frustration that Jack has, but I can also understand why Emily closed early that day. If I had a kiddo playing a college basketball game and I could go watch, I would. Her mistake was not reaching out to Jack or Steven about the situation, but I mean are they really upset that she closed at 5 p.m. for just that day? I would tell her there needs to be better communication, but this shouldn’t be an issue. I work Saturdays by myself, and for six weeks this past fall, I had two kids playing soccer on Saturdays and I never missed a game. I simply put a note on the door that I was attending a soccer game and the time I would be back. I had several customers come back by telling me they came to the door and saw my note and loved it! No one gave me grief, and everyone said they respected how I closed the store to go watch my kids play soccer.

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Jason M.
Baton Rouge, LA

I am a married father of two young children. I’ve been married to my wife for 11 years now, and my family is my entire world. I enjoy phenomenal work hours and time off with my family regularly. I consider myself truly blessed and fortunate to work for a company and individuals who share my values and outlook on personal time. That’s not to say that emergency situations don’t arise. In my position, I have been called upon to show up at times that have been less than convenient for various reasons. These requests are not frequent, nor are they unreasonable. I think that it’s important to recognize a good thing when you have it and explain that to your family. There have been times that I have had to cancel plans due to work and, while it is disappointing, I again remember how fortunate I am every OTHER day of the week.

Randy Ha.
Tucson, AZ

As Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too important to take seriously.” Closing early should be no big deal. A lot of our problem with COVID-19 is people insisting on working as if nothing has changed. It has. The woman made a perfectly acceptable decision in the circumstances.

Brad L.
Duncan, BC

Really? Do you think that you as an owner and an actual stakeholder can expect the same commitment from an employee? When an employee has nothing to gain, why would they accept undefined responsibility? From the employee’s position, I believe that her circumstances and prior family commitments warranted her closing the store early. Either way, the owner will ultimately bear the responsibility: fire her, and she will have grounds for an inappropriate dismissal and large settlement; reprimand her, and her performance will definitely reflect it. Retail sucks! (As an employer.)

Lisa T.
Lethbridge, AB

If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s that clients will adapt to the short notice changes in hours that come along. So in terms of client pushback, I would think it would be a non-issue. As for her intentions, if it was a one-time thing, I think he should accept it gracefully and believe that she did what was right in that instance. 20 years of great should easily negate one evening of differing choices. You want to empower your employees to make good decisions in your absence — so chalk this one up to your own education! Talking about your expectations going forward should be the only discussion worth having.

Jim D.
Kingston, NH

So Emily made an executive decision to close early and Jack is upset. Maybe Jack internalized too much over the years and needs to learn to chill a bit. If I had issues every time I had to close early or open late in the past 34 years, I would be in a box six feet under. Why should her schedule change because Jack had obviously not taken better care of himself? She is an employee, he is an owner. Obviously, Jack took off time during the day for his doctor’s appointment and I notice he didn’t ask his partner to go in and close that night. It is time for Jack to put on his big boy pants and realize that he does not walk on water, nor does he rule an autocracy.

Maya C.
Madison, WI

This situation is on both Jack and Emily. Yes, it was wrong for Emily to close early without telling Jack, but Jack had also left the conversation kind of open-ended when he asked Emily if she would stay later and Emily said she’d check with the office manager. Also, Jack was informed about Emily’s work ethic from another employee. He should talk to Emily to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again and be clear on what he expects from her as his employee.

Tom S.
Winnipeg, MB

Take time to heal, wait a while, pay attention. Then if all else fails, can her.

Linda F.
Timmins, ON

Emily was put in control because she was deemed responsible and able to make decisions in the best interest of the store and staff. She made a choice that more than likely in the end had no real effect on the bottom line (considering the cost of staffing, probability of sales during those three hours and the COVID-19 situation). At times, the phrase “feed the beast” comes to mind when being in retail. In a family-run business, we have the ability to make choices where we can put family before work. Emily was able to make a great family memory during a year made miserable by COVID-19. Jack should concentrate on becoming well and use Emily’s choice as a model on how to conduct his family and business life. His time in the hospital should be a wake-up call.

Danny E.
Owasso, OK

Didn’t hurt a thing for the store to be closed. No need getting into a huff. God, family, work.

Lauren P.
Philadelphia, PA

It’s not reasonable to expect employees to be on call at any time. Just a few hours of notice is not enough to require someone to rearrange their evening. Isn’t the best part of owning a small business that you get to treat your employees like actual humans? If you want flexibility in return, you have to give people a little grace — as long as the manager isn’t *always* saying no.

John T.
Chattanooga, TN

It has been a hard year on all of us, let it go. You will never win — family always comes first. To re-train a new employee is hard, and you never know what you are going to get. Twenty years growing sales as a whole, she is doing a good job.

Daniel U.
Hamilton, ON

Jack chose to allow his personal relationship with this employee, who has unusual and undefined latitude and freedom in her position at the store, to interfere with what is best for the business. In this case, he asked for her to choose, she did and he didn’t like it. If he had said, “I need you to stay until closing and then shut down,” they could have decided what would be done. But he didn’t. By leaving the decision up in the air, he gave her the power to choose what she was going to do.

Regardless of the extenuating circumstances, this is a prime example of bad management, and it smacks of an interpersonal relationship that is inappropriate in any business. The real problem is what to do in the future. If “management” decides to rewrite their rule book, there might be a very high price to pay if there is/are protests from the worker(s).

Eric S.
Naples, FL

In today’s world, you must realize that putting family first is not just a statement but a lifestyle. While closing early was not what had been “authorized,” her decision to close must be respected as you really had no choice but to hope others would drop everything to provide upper management’s wishes. Now everyone knows how they would have handled it, but the fact is, you must support this decision or risk severe underlying problems for the rest of her tenure. I see all sides of this issue, but with a severely reduced staff, ownership unable to cover and trusted team members unable or unwilling to cover — well, you got what you got.

Simply ask “How was the game?” Support her decision and move forward or risk a quiet mutiny that will damage your recovering business at its core. Love your staff and they will love your customers. Be mean or unsupportive and watch how quickly that transfers to customer service.

Adrienne R.
Los Angeles, CA

Although Jack’s disappointment is understandable, Emily should not be reprimanded for not changing her plans at the last minute to accommodate her boss’s request, even though he found himself to be suddenly at the hospital under doctor’s care. Emily’s loyalty should not be questioned because of her decision. Did she put a note on the door after closing with an emergency phone number? Had I been one of the store’s customers who dropped by needing an urgent gift, I would have called the number.

During the pandemic, everyone has been stressed far more than usual. Forgiveness is in order here. Emily can double her efforts to find other ways to make more sales and relieve her boss in the future.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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