I was a college student who just happened to have the highest seniority in a store that had endured (barely) without a manager for nearly eight months. I held no training, really in anything, considering I honestly had originally only intended this to be a part-time summer gig; a first and only intended experience in the world of retail. Tyler was highly motivated when he was hired by someone else, but life grew harder for him as he picked up a second job, and started to really question life’s direction as a young sophomore in college is want to do. It is needless to say to anyone familiar with associates of this extremely common back story, but I will state it plainly anyway: he started to “check out”.
The district manager would question me about his stats and performance. A secret shopper found him running the store alone in the morning with headphones on. He came in each day looking more and more exhausted. I was not a manager, and I had not intended to truly be a leader. His less than stellar performance hurt me personally and I felt let down.
Finally, after sleepless nights and anxiety filled days it was time to confront him about this. How could I ease the blow? My first class did not start until 11a.m. ( I had thought) so I disembarked from my home at 9 a.m. and headed to our commonly favorite java spot and grabbed two grande Caramel Macchiato’s to go. In the car I rehearsed what I would say and how I would say it. I knew he had allot going on personally and the last thing I wanted was for this to backfire and dull him further.
I took a deep breath as I walked past the giant cumbersome wooden doors and into our store. I saw him leaning over the counter with earbuds plugged into his ears. His eyes were focused, and his hands were busy drawing a very detailed and very well depicted illustration of an alien invasion. He was an art major so even his most common of doodles were not taken lightly as each extra-terrestrial was shaded in with map colors just so. He did not hear or see me come in until I was standing before him with my peace offering handed out to him. My face was calm, I honestly felt no surprise, and his face for a moment fell into sheer horror as he yanked at the wires that extended from his ears causing the plugs to fling with great turbulence about his chest. It seemed obvious enough as he took the latte, “we need to talk.”
He looked at me honestly and sincerely, “I know.”
I explained to him how concerned I was for his well-being. How his performance at work was a screaming example of his unhappiness. I let him open up to me about personal matters, I needed to know what on Earth was going on. I let him know that I really depended on him and his past experience to help me through this retail hell we had commonly found ourselves in. There was nothing he could contradict, there was nothing he could fault me for needing to express. He agreed to no more headphones and another boost of effort. I agreed to allow this to be his warning and not make this part of his record.
After this his performance continued to improve, though his personality off the floor did not. I look back on this experience and I hope my approach made a difference not only for this job but for his life. My class indeed had been moved up to 10:15 that particular Thursday for a special class activity so I walked in 45 minutes late (I don’t know how retail pseudo-management destroyed my GPA from the President’s List I was on before). It may have not been the most professional way to handle the issue, but considering my lack of experience and training, it seemed to produce the result I was looking for; a devoted employee to the cause.
From the Archives: January 29, 2015