HR Insights, Talent Management

When a Great Work Ethic Can’t Make Up for Bad Management

Kyle (age 21) handles the scheduling, appointments, estimates, and all payment transactions for the auto service center near my office.

On a recent weekday morning at 8:16, I call to inquire about getting my vehicle in for shocks and an alignment. Kyle politely tells me that if I can bring it in within the next 30 minutes, he’ll have it out by 11:45, in time for me to make my lunch appointment.

I agree and head out immediately. I arrive at 8:37 am and notice that there are already three customers in the waiting area in front of me.

Frustration under the surface

Kyle is working fast and furious to make certain each gets their questions answered, receives an accurate estimate, and signs the required paperwork to begin the job. With so much to do, Kyle is multi-tasking like a one-armed paperhanger in a stiff breeze, and he’s trying to make everyone feel like they are important and will attend to them shortly.

Kyle is friendly, knowledgeable, and he seems to be very competent at keeping so many plates spinning at once. However, as I observe him more carefully, I can detect a subtle level of frustration brewing under the surface.

He’s working solo throughout this rush and it’s got to be incredibly stressful to take such good care of the four customers in the showroom while, at the same time, being constantly interrupted with questions from his service techs, while, at the same time, handling an endless stream of phone calls from prospective customers.

Eventually, it’s my turn and Kyle begins by apologizing to me for the delay while looking over my shoulder to acknowledge the two additional customers that just walked in.

“I don’t know too many people that are working harder than you are today, Kyle.” I said to him.

When  a worker needs more management support

Something about my statement must have made me appear like a therapist, as Kyle took a deep breath, shook his head, and began to offload his stress.

“I’ve been here for over a year and it’s like this every day. Every day, man! They tell me to give friendly personal service to every customer and to suggest other things we can do for their car, but when they don’t staff anyone else to help you, and they don’t provide a voice mail system to help handle the barrage of calls that come in from the ads they place, you wind up playing the incompetent fool. Ultimately, no one gets the service they expect or deserve…I say I’m sorry a thousand times a day … and I can’t wait for my shift to end.”

I’m no therapist, but it doesn’t take Dr. Phil to realize that Kyle is not going to be working here in six months. (Heck, I’d be surprised if he made it six more days.) And when he finally quits, this national big box retailer will attempt to find another Kyle to plug into that position.

It’s a crying shame, too. Because if Kyle had just a little support from upper management, he’d be a safe bet for long-term employment. Imagine how much better he’d be with five more years’ experience!

If management in this operation would observe what I did, they’d be the ones listening to Kyle, and they’d most certainly provide him with the resources (another counter person, etc.) and the tools (voice mail, etc.) he needs to succeed.

Not a good ending to this story

By supporting Kyle, their customers would get a much improved service experience; the kind they’d tell their friends about. And those referrals from delighted customers would have a substantial impact on revenues, decreasing their reliance on expensive couponing and marketing gimmicks to get new customers into the store. Not to mention the repeat business from their existing customers.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t going to end like that.

With a death grip on wages and operational costs, my prediction is that this national retailing giant is going to keep churning and burning the Kyles right out of their organization. Their employee turnover and marketing costs will continue to escalate. Customer satisfaction, repeat business, and referrals will continue to erode. Stock prices will continue to fall.

Are you paying more attention to your daily deposits than you are to your Kyles?

POSTSCRIPT: Kyle apologized again when he called at 2:18 pm to tell me that service to my car was finally completed. He said one of his techs went home sick and that he had to install the shocks himself.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the emerging workforce and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 3 leadership books including Reviving Work Ethic . His new book, On Fire at Work: How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out, will be released later this year. Learn more about Eric at EricChester.com.
  • Kimberlee Stiens

    Wow. I understand that adding an employee is one of the more expensive things a business can do, but I’m *astounded* by how often retailers (and food, especially) are willing to suffer extremely high turnover, employee burnout, and poor service to save that money. Every food and retail job I’ve ever worked has been understaffed, easily to the point of providing noticeably poorer service. And sometimes, it’s not even about adding a person; how inexpensive would voicemail be in the above scenario? Sometimes, it’s just about asking your employees what tools could make their jobs better and believing them when they tell you.