Posted by: terrapraeta | February 23, 2010

Into the Hands of the Gods


Somedays won’t end ever and somedays pass on by,
I’ll be working here forever, at least until I die.
Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t
I’m supposed to get a raise week, you know damn well I won’t.

Workin’ for a livin’ (workin’)
Workin’ for a livin’ (workin’)
Workin’ for a livin’, livin’ and workin’
I’m taking what they giving ’cause I’m working for a livin’.

Huey Lewis and the News, Working for a Living

The last week has been a really rough one in my life. Yesterday, I gave notice at my place of employment. Although I have nothing lined up to replace it, the situation had deteriorated enough that Ifelt that was my only option. After that, I sat down and talked with my bosses for a while. I hate calling them that — these are people that I am very fond of, that have done a lot for me in the time I have known them. I would like to think that I have done a lot for them as well, but perhaps that is not how they see it. In any case, after thinking long and hard last evening, I sat down and wrote a letter to my boss, explaining where I am at and how I feel about the issues between us. Perhaps this will help her to gain a different perspective, or perhaps my resignation will stand as it is. Follows the letter, edited to remove names.

I’ve been thinking intensely since our conversation on Monday. And I think it is important for me to explain those thoughts to you, where ever we end up in the long run. Simply because communication is important to me, and I think that has been the core of the problems I see having developed between us.

Last year, when you made me a manager, it seemed to me to be very much like M or D – I was filling the role of shift manager, minding the front of the house, responsible for the day to day operation while I was there and dealing with voids, change and so forth. This quickly changed, first as I took over doing the morning paperwork, then took on responsibility for hiring(and firing) my day shift people. This progressed to J and I sharing out the full load of covering all the management shifts each week and I began to think of myself (and I perceived being thought of by others) as more of “assistant manager” — J’s partner in running the restaurant under your directives.

As such, I took on more and more responsibilities. I began monitoring labor costs, being more involved in back of the house operations, making decisions about stocking levels (ie produce, desserts), and even involving myself in that project to determine our cost of goods, pricing structure and so forth. One of the things I worked very hard at was to try and improve communication(and therefore relations between day and night shift). Repeatedly I have made efforts in that area and every time I have, the response has been anything from “no we can’t do” whatever it was, to getting yelled at for my efforts. That has been disappointing, and sometimes very frustrating, but I have continued to try different strategies to accomplish the goal. Because I feel very strongly that getting the entire staff on the same page and working together is not only a worthy goal, but in the long run vital to the continued successful operation of the business.

You know my history. You know the experience I bring to the table. Not only in restaurants – of which I have seen many different operations with both good and bad aspects – but also with small business. During my years in accounting, I worked with many dozens of small businesses, mostly failures, but a few real success stories. I have tried, time and again, to bring that experience to the table, to make suggestions to you and C, to point out things that I see that could be done better, or done at all. Yet time and again, I have been ignored. Now, obviously, this is your business and you need to make the final decisions, I am not disputing that. The reason I bring it up is that I have felt like regardless of the fact that you know of my experience, you continue to see me as just another server, and in some ways a “kid,” when I am neither. You have not necessarily thoughtfully considered my suggestions and decided against them. Rather you have dismissed them out of hand. Thus, more frustration on my part.

With all this in mind, I do not see my value to the restaurant (or any employer) as a laborer. I see myself as a professional. I am very good at my primary job: serving your customers. We all know this. I am also very good, and very dedicated to my secondary and tertiary duties: however you want to prioritize them. I never leave customers unattended, I never leave tables uncleaned, unless I am actively serving customers. Once the customers and the dining room are all taken care of, I make sure that the line and salad bar areas are clean and stocked. And I always make sure that the paperwork I am responsible for is done and done accurately. Beyond that, when there is a problem with the paperwork, I am usually the one that can figure out that problem is, if it is a bookkeeping error. I have been there for you time and again, when there was a computer issue to deal with. Not that I have always able to correct the problem, but I was at least able to tell you if we could correct it, or if you needed to go to an outside service provider. This is the value I see myself bringing to you and yours.

That said, no, I am not the most diligent when it comes to busy work. Get me in the right mood and I will dive into various cleaning projects. You’ve seen it. I will find things to clean and scrub that no one else has even noticed. And I will be on it for days until my cleaning jag wears out. But I don’t do things simply to appear busy. Wiping a shelf that is not actually dirty may “look good” but it is not actually accomplishing anything useful. And to me, that’s a lie. Now, of course, there are things there that can be done and be useful. I have been far more lax the last couple months than I should have been and for that I apologize. The tension I have been feeling between us, and the general bad feelings throughout the staff have been affecting my job performance. I also have had some personal things that have been affecting my attitude. For all of this, I can only apologize to you. I should have done better. I do have to make clear, however, that my idea of “doing better” still does not fit your image of always moving. For the reasons I just explained. And I won’t try to claim differently.

Another thing we discussed yesterday was my lax attitude about policy enforcement. There are a couple of levels to this. First off, I really am not any more likely to let things slide than J. It’s simply that you see it on the day shift, whereas you are not around in the evening. How many times have you told me you don’t go in there in the evening because what you see pisses you off? And I have, intentionally, let J’s standards inform my own. But, sometimes that isn’t it: sometimes I simply don’t see what is before my face. My head is elsewhere – on the customer I am serving, the project I am working on, or even something personal that intrudes on my thoughts. This is a failing of mine, and I am aware of it. I just haven’t solved it yet.

More specifically, you have been upset with my favoritism towards T. I know you believe this is because we are friends. In fact, we are friends for the same reason that I show her a certain latitude. It is because we have the same work ethic and the same way of prioritizing our work. She, like I, never ignores a customer as is so common amongst some of the other staff. She never leaves tables uncleaned, unless she is serving customers, she cleans up the back once the front is in hand. She makes sure the stocking is done and she will find herself cleaning projects when business is very slow and she is needing something to do. Beyond that, she works with me to make sure the customers are taken care of, and like me, she makes the effort to maintain a team spirit, a team effort between the front of the house and the back. When we work, the line is never a battleground. (With the one exception of E mouthing off in a completely disrespectful and inappropriate way, last summer) I have gotten on her about being on her phone, or being negligent about the dishes, and various other things. Perhaps not as often as you like, but it has been done., and she has been responsive. If, on the other hand, she has been disrespectful towards you, then this should have been addressed, and I would have had nothing to say about it. That is unacceptable. But I have never seen it, so I have never addressed it.

Every person that I have worked with at the restaurant over the last year (again, with the exception of E) – those that have worked with me on a regular basis – day shift and back of the house, respects me. And so when I tell them something needs to be done, when I tell them they need to get off my clock, when I tell them pretty much anything, they respond. This is why I could send the boys home without too much grief. This is why we work together well. Yes, I protected the boys sometimes, but largely that was because when I spoke, they jumped. Always, every time. Weighing the positives against the negatives, I worked very hard to keep their heads in good place, enjoying their job and keeping on top of what needed to be done. A positive work environment could have made all of the difference, but we haven’t had a positive work environment for most of the time I have worked at the restaurant. My efforts have helped, occasionally, but generally the moral of the whole place is always just a step from disaster. And you know as well as I do where that comes from.

The issue you are facing with D is very similar to the issue with T. Yes, he has a hard time switching from one set of procedures to another. Sometimes he screws up – and usually in ways that we – you, I , whomever – cannot fathom. But when it comes to diligence, he is right there. And frankly, when it comes to simply working the line, he is very good, if sloppy. He and I could run that whole place, day shift, by ourselves for nine months out of the year, if we both worked every day. Again, its weighing the positives and the negatives, and only you can do that. But sometimes I think you fixate on one or the other, based upon the most recent occurrence, and so you never see the whole person, the whole employee. Instead you see one of two caricatures. D is not a saint, neither am I. Nor are we worthless, lazy or incompetent staffers. We’re both a little of each and only you can weigh our measure. But please look at the whole picture.

This is who I am, this is the value I bring to the table. I won’t change who I am for love or money or anyone or anything else. I am a far cry from the perfect anything. If who I am and the skills and attitudes I bring to the table are not “good enough” for you and your business, then I should not be working there. And that has been the message of the last week. That I am simply not good enough. So I should move on. If however, the things I say here mean something, if you see this a different way than you did before, then we should talk and see if there is a way to move forward in a positive way for me, for you, and for the restaurant itself.

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Responses

  1. Ey, tp, I am sorry to hear it. Are you feeling broken hearted cuz you want a good base of livinghood?

    It sounds to me like that old story, over and over again: vertical control vs horizontal communication and working together. The two points of view don’t seem to have a continuum, they are two very different ways to be in the world, and all those past efforts of the business world to bridge the gap was basically bullshit, making themselves pretty-looking. All for show. Dave P has said it in other ways too.

    Keep us posted how this unfolds… thinking of ya…

  2. Oh… I forgot. Looking busy and wiping clean shelves is absolutely beloved by control freak management! 😉

  3. Hey —

    Well… I just got fired. Didn’t even have a chance to deliver the letter. So I sent it on anyway. Maybe some of it will sink in. Maybe.

    tp

  4. Bummer.
    I know you liked working there. Too bad.
    I hope good will come of this for you. You stood up for what matters to you, and that counts.

  5. Thanks vera.

    I think this will be for the best… I feel some disappointment with my now former bosses, but I’m also kinda relieved and ready to be doing something different. So we’ll see what the gods have in store for me next 😉

    tp

  6. Crappy door closes, big new scary one opens wide…

    ——

    My work is “like” getting laid-off every week, for the last 12 years in a row. I can always “keep it together” and get through the clients/tasks I dislike, knowing I’ll be done with them soon enough (and/or I can always so no up-front, for whatever reason)

    But gawd, if I had to work a retail or public gig – I’d be a wreck.

    I much prefer tangible pay for production coupled with autonomy – not the same old paystub whether I kicked ass or slacked.

    And I hate clocks…

    -Jim

  7. Hey Jim —

    Yeah… I cannot imagine you in any sort of clock punch kinda situation… it would quickly become a clock-beat-the-hell-outta situation 😉 (sorry… couldn’t resist!)

    But I honestly did like my job. Partly because I had about as much autonomy as anyone could in a restaurant — because I was the only one there often, and because I dig the interaction of the customers, almost across the board, and because I like the momentary challenge of being busy as hell and holding everything in my head while I run around like a maniac 😉

    Call me a weird kinda adrenalin junky….

    tp

  8. Turn to about 01:05…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=J1jzs6dk4bs#t=65

    -Jim

  9. Hey tp,

    I’ve written letters in my past to managers when work situations were not positive. I do not know if my words helped to inform or change any minds, but I always felt catharsis in clearing the air.

    Good luck to you!


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