You signed a contract agreeing to put all other needs ahead of yours. Remember?

I know, I know. Your employees drive you crazy. But, what would you do without them? Without them, you would have to deal directly with all those customers that you hate. You would have to find a new thorn in your shoe to replace the one that just fell out. Hey, it's not worth it. Quit wishing things were different. Start settling for what you've got. There is no one out there with a good work ethic. All the good employees have died, or moved out of your market area. Face it. You are stuck with the employees you have. In fact, you OWE them a living ... and it's time to pay up.
  • When you catch your top-selling plumber moonlighting, gently ask if he would limit his personal trade to nights and weekends.

  • It's time to grant the request for Charmin Ultra in the men's room.

  • If Joe the Plumber misses his goal by a country mile, give him his bonus anyway. You don't want him to feel badly. You don't want him to quit!

  • Look the other way when a gray sweatshirt bearing the message, "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot 'em?" shows up at the morning uniform check.

  • Quit counting the number of grandparents Sad Suzy has. Though she has attended dozens of funerals, she must come from a polygamist family. Show some sorrow for her loss.

Stress-Free Workplace

At a trade show recently, I heard a group of contractors whining about their employees. The topic: getting their employees to show up on time. One of them offered helpfully, "We start work at 8 a.m. One of my guys shows up 10 minutes late every day. I fixed that. I changed his in-time to 8:15."

Now that's a good idea.

Or, you could eliminate in-times all together. We live in an uncertain world. Every day, some goofy thing can get in the way of showing up to work on time. Once upon a time, one of my employees claimed that an upsetting dream caused him to forget the way to work. This amnesia lasted only a few hours, thank goodness. How can you penalize your employees for the randomness of the universe?

I hope that you have abandoned any discussion of sales at your company. How dare you ask a technical genius, a craftsman of the highest order, to actually sell something? Understand that the very thought of sales is repulsive to the purist plumber. Ideally, a plumber should shrug off any attempts to pay for his services with a brusque, "Our office will send you a bill."

Remember that it's the plumber's decision to fix, replace or ignore an encountered problem on a service call. As a layperson, the customer's opinions, wants, needs and desires are totally inconsequential. Even if the customer WANTS a new faucet, if the old one can be repaired to any point of functionality, the repair will be made. A little duct tape goes a long way. When you suggest that a new faucet might be a good idea, what you are really saying is, "Rip the sucker off for every dime he has." So, knock it off. You owe it to your plumbers to provide a stress-free work environment. It's a lot less stressful for your employees to have you pay them to do free work for your customers.

Personal Responsibility

You owe it to your employees to cater to their every whim. If your employees happen to be family members, you are doubly indebted. Remember that your mother fed and clothed you and changed your diapers. It is not your place to question her when she chooses to answer the phone with a surly, "Now what?"

Your father taught you everything you know about plumbing. I know you are grateful. So, no matter that he failed to create any kind of wealth, or sock away any money for retirement. It's your responsibility to buy the company from your dad, for a price 10 times what he could sell it for on the open market. Indeed, there is NO ONE on the planet who would buy the company except for you. And, you owe it to him.

Cousin Harry is two screws short of a pop-up assembly. He is functionally illiterate, and hasn't cracked a smile since he "accidentally" sheared the loading dock off the back of your building with your backhoe. Where else would he work if he didn't work for you? You owe it to him. Aunt Sally has been doing your bookkeeping for 30 years. No matter that you haven't seen a single financial statement in that time. How dare you question the woman who bought you a ukulele for your fifth birthday?

You may not remember this, but once upon a time you signed a contract agreeing to put all other needs ahead of yours. The fine print included a responsibility clause, shifting all personal responsibility from your employees and family members to you. You are bound by the contract to spend so much time and energy attempting to solve other people's problems, that there is no time or energy left to spend on you. This eliminates any opportunity to accomplish your own goals and dreams. A less-aware individual may suggest that this approach may indeed be self-serving, letting you off the hook from fulfilling your own life's purpose. NONSENSE! If you ever find yourself fantasizing about digging in your heels, and holding your employees responsible for their decisions, STOP. Don't even think about it. The entire world population, with the exception of you, is utterly inept, just as you have always suspected.

No matter what you do, it will never be enough to satisfy the wants, needs and desires of the people who work for you. But you must continue to bend over backwards every day in your efforts to please them. You signed the contract. You owe it to them.

Harley World

My brother-in-law works for Easy Rider, the Harley aftermarket retail store. It's a pretty cool place, if you are into heavy bikes that make that patented low, burbly rumble. The service department is amazing. Picture a well-designed motorcycle repair shop, outfitted with every possible tool. The space is bright and clean. The service techs work on Harley's, Big Dogs and Indian motorcycles. The basic work involves performance-enhancing components, and lots and lots of chrome. Lots of guys do the same kind of work on weekends at home and call it a hobby.

The motorcycle techs get to wear jeans to work. They can have hair as long as they like, and any color. Tattoos? You bet. The bigger and darker the better. Piercing? Please! And no article of clothing is too old, worn or torn for wear.

At Easy Rider, the service techs don't even have to talk to the customers. They don't even have to look at the customers. They can swear, if they want. They can hang Snap On Tool calendars on the wall. They can chew tobacco and spit.

And guess what. They still gripe about stuff. They are scheduled for too many hours, or too few. No matter how much Eric stocks in parts inventory, they will still be missing the one item they really need. And they will assume Eric does that deliberately, to aggravate them.

Perhaps if Eric switched to Charmin Ultra ...