The Case of the Bad Break A newly hired jeweler leaves the store without permission, then returns as if nothing has happened. Leah Cohen was proud of all that she and her team had accomplished since she took over Lake Forest Jewelers from her father about four years ago. Making it work through the pandemic had taught the Lake Forest team a few things about agility and innovative thinking — and it seemed the customers in their Midwest city very much appreciated their effort. Business over the past year had been the best in the store’s history. While she welcomed the post-pandemic zest for life that was fueling the increase in business — especially in their custom department — Leah was caught off guard back in March when the longest tenured and most productive of Lake Forest’s three jewelers decided that it was time to follow his heart, which was telling him to move across the country with his girlfriend. Leah knew from experience that finding good salespeople was difficult. She didn’t know that finding good jewelers was nearly impossible. Even before the jeweler’s announcement, the increased workload in the shop had become tough to manage. Being down one jeweler had delivery dates for repairs as well as custom work pushing back to unreasonable levels. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected] It took over two months of trying everything from networking to online ads before she found Jeff Winton. He was young and just out of trade school, but like Leah, he had grown up in his father’s business, a small shop in a town downstate. Jeff learned the practical side of bench work by watching his dad and by working beside him whenever he could. He had just completed his second year of community college several months ago when his father decided to close his business and retire. He suggested that Jeff get some formal training and put his talent to good use. He helped Jeff enroll in a highly regarded trade school program, and then the director of that program put Jeff in touch with Leah. Jeff came highly recommended by the school’s team, and the other Lake Forest jewelers were impressed with the work he delivered during the bench test that was part of his interview process. After nearly two weeks in the shop, Leah thought Jeff was adjusting well to his first “real job,” and she was happy to see that the store’s backlog of jobs was starting to clear. With the increase in downtown activity, Saturdays had become busier than ever at Lake Forest — and Jeff’s second Saturday on the job was no exception. In addition to working on his regular volume of repairs, he had been called out to talk with three custom bridal clients before noon. All three of the jewelers were stretched pretty thin that day, but Leah could see that the store was filled with people, sales were being made, and Lake Forest customers were leaving happy — a sure sign that all was well. Around 3 o’clock that afternoon, one of the jewelers came out to tell Leah that Jeff hadn’t returned from his lunch break and had been gone for nearly two hours. She saw that he still had four jobs in his box for the day, including two that were due to customers that afternoon. Leah tried reaching Jeff, but her call went directly to voicemail and texts went unanswered. After talking with the other jewelers to ensure that they could get the jobs due to customers that day finished, she went back to trying to contact Jeff in between conversations with shoppers in the store. She was trying hard not to think the worst, but she genuinely feared for his safety. Two hours later, just as the team was about to start closing up for the day, Jeff returned to the store. Relieved to see him, Leah asked if he was OK, then asked what had happened. Jeff rolled his eyes and told Leah that he was totally overwhelmed and had just needed a break — so he left. Dumbfounded, Leah asked him if he had expressed his concerns to anyone in the store before leaving. Jeff said that he didn’t tell anyone because there was nothing to tell. It was no big deal. He just needed a few hours to himself. He then asked Leah what was in his box for Monday. Leah looked at him completely confused and didn’t know what to say. She was furious — what Jeff had done was a fireable offense, but the thought of having to call dozens of customers to tell them their jobs wouldn’t be done on time was almost as upsetting to Leah as the thought of having to find another jeweler. QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER Should Leah go over the Monday’s jobs with Jeff and let it go this one time? If she does, is she sending the wrong message to the rest of her team? Should she write Jeff up and tell him that if he walks out on his schedule again, he will be terminated, or should she just fire him on the spot and take her chances with finding another new jeweler? Fill out my online form.