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Real Deal: The Case of the Temperamental Jeweler

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A jeweler makes the staff of Ingram & Sons miserable. But does her blow-up with the owner while on sick leave open the door to replace her?

[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

[dropcap cap=W]ith just under $5 million in annual sales volume and a prime downtown location that made them a repair destination, Ingram & Sons had more than enough work to keep two full-time jewelers busy. Having spent nearly a year trying to fill one of the spots last time, Mitch Ingram had been happy to have two competent people on board, and while he’d wished things could have been less contentious between them, he remembered thinking it was probably a bit much to expect that Eric and Kathy could get the work done and get along too! Then, he thought about all the time he’d spent over three years just mediating disputes between them[/dropcap]

It was clear that Mitch had misjudged the toll the strained relationship was taking about eight months ago, the afternoon that Eric sat down in his office and announced that he was opening up his own trade shop back in his home town — about 100 miles east. He told Mitch that he was tired of the arguments and petty nonsense, and he felt as though he couldn’t focus enough on his craft with all the energy he was putting into keeping things as level as he could with Kathy.

On one hand, Mitch noted that Eric’s timing couldn’t have been better. With the downturn in the local economy, both merchandise and repair sales were way off, and it was getting tougher and tougher to justify the payroll in the shop. On the other hand, he knew without a doubt that if he had to pick one of the two jewelers to keep, Eric was the better choice — both for quality of work and for temperament. Unfortunately, Eric had made a firm commitment to a partner in his new venture. He and Mitch agreed to part as friends, and Mitch set out with the hope that removing the competitive factor might make Kathy a little more confident, and that a more confident Kathy would create more harmony within the store team.

It didn’t take long for Mitch to determine that once again, he was hoping for too much. With Eric gone, Kathy quickly took charge, turning her prickly energy and gruff delivery toward the front-end team. She spent inordinate amounts of time micromanaging even the simplest jobs, criticizing everything from descriptions to take in procedures, and alienating sales and office associates alike. The thought of finding a replacement was enough to motivate Mitch to continue working with Kathy though, even to the point of setting up weekly coaching meetings to address a variety of interpersonal skills, beginning with basic communication. The whole staff was beginning to see some improvement, they said, at least for a few days after each meeting. Mitch was happy for the progress.

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About a month after Eric’s departure, Kathy’s father fell and broke his hip. With her mom also in poor health, and with her siblings scattered around the country, she needed to assume responsibility for a good part of his care. She couldn’t afford to take the time off work, so she asked Mitch for a great deal of flexibility in scheduling, provided she guarantee that jobs would be done well and on time. Kathy lived up to her commitments, both to her family and to Mitch. She came in early, stayed late and shuttled between the store and her parents’ home several times each day, but neither the quality of her work nor her on-time delivery suffered. Still, Mitch and the rest of the staff couldn’t help but notice though that the longer the situation went on, the more tired Kathy looked, and the more irritable and cross she became.

The additional strain finally took a toll on Kathy’s health several weeks later. She called Mitch early one morning saying she couldn’t come in because she’d been taken to the hospital with severe stomach pains. Later that day, he learned that she had undergone surgery for a ruptured appendix and because of complications, would be out for at least eight weeks.

After a week of sending jobs to an outside shop, Mitch learned from another store associate that Eric’s partnership never materialized, and that he was contemplating a return to the area. Mitch knew that as much as he might like to re-hire Eric, he couldn’t just replace Kathy while she was out sick, and he wasn’t in a position — financially or mentally — to have them both in the store again. He did see the potential for a mutually beneficial short-term arrangement, though. He offered Eric the opportunity to work in the store on a contract basis, just until Kathy was able to come back. Eric started the next day and was happy for the work, while the staff was glad to have him on hand.

Three weeks into their arrangement, Kathy came by the store unexpectedly, just to say hello. She saw Eric at work in her shop as she approached the front window, and walked in demanding to see Mitch. When he came out to the showroom, she launched into an angry tirade, accusing Mitch of giving her job away, and threatening legal action. He tried to stop her long enough to explain, but when she continued to shout over him, he gave up and simply asked her to leave the store before he called the police. One of the other store associates managed to move her toward the door, which he locked behind her.

Mitch had not terminated Kathy before the visit, and was, in fact, paying her sick time. Despite his anger at the current situation, he was keenly aware of the stress she’d been experiencing, which he assumed was elevated further by her illness, and driven over the top by seeing Eric unexpectedly. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help but think that this outburst might give him the perfect opportunity to move Kathy out and bring Eric back.

[h3][b]The BIG questions:[/h3]  What should Mitch do? Are there legal implications he needs to consider, or his decision simply a moral one?[/b]

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[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

[span class=note]This story is from the June 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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