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Fouling the Water Supply Helps No One

Sep 13th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperDividing our parts warehouse from our production shop there is a wall with a counter and a slide-up door. The idea is that the production workers come to the counter and ask for what they need, information pills rather than casually wandering into the warehouse and just taking it. Production workers build, but they often don’t account, which is why you have to keep them out of the warehouse.

The counter doesn’t get much use, other than at the end of the day when the production workers gather to fill out their time sheets. As it happens, the shipping computer is on the same counter, in the warehouse, and if you happen to be shipping something out about the time the production workers gather, you get to hear everything they say through the slide-up door. Normally it’s not very interesting, but last week I heard one of them make a few disparaging comments. I won’t go into the details, but it had to do with management’s efforts to hire more production workers.

What he said wasn’t terribly severe, and it was said in a joking manner, but it struck me for a few different reasons. For one thing, he said it to all of the other production workers, which is kind of like having the flu and sneezing all over everyone you work with. He obviously has a negative attitude toward his workplace, and he made sure to share it with everyone else efficiently. It also struck me because he doesn’t seem like a pot-stirrer, but apparently he may be, which could put him in a position to do a lot of damage to morale. Finally, it struck me because it struck close to home.

When I drove a tow truck in the late eighties/early nineties, I worked for an impound company that had cornered about 80 percent of the private property impound business in our market. We were still small, but very productive, relatively profitable and overconfident. I was very young and immature, and I had a negative attitude toward my workplace. I didn’t particularly like my job. I was going to college to get out of my job. I did, however, like the money I was making and it was the only thing that balanced all of the “misery” the job gave me. We were paid on commission, so of course I gave myself all of the credit for how much money I was making.

Although I didn’t interact with the other workers very much, I was definitely outwardly critical of our management. I didn’t hide it. My boss often complained that I thought I was better than everyone else, and that was true to some extent. When he left to start his own company, I was happy that he was leaving but wary of what the change would bring. For good reason, it turned out. He went into competition with us and he was successful. Our market share dropped to about 50 percent within three years and my commission pay dropped each year.

Now I was really critical of what was going on, because I perceived that our new management and our ownership weren’t doing enough to combat the competition. Which they weren’t, of course. But complaining and criticizing was the extent of my contribution to any solutions. After all, I was just a driver.

My old boss eventually offered me a job and I switched companies and we all lived happily ever after, so to speak. I learned an important lesson. If I wasn’t going to do anything constructive to help, then my complaining and criticizing was not an earned privilege. At the new company I immediately changed my approach and within a year he had promoted me to a management position and we made some good progress as a company the next several years, even if he and I didn’t agree on a lot of things.

It’s not really my place to talk to this production worker, although I might anyway. If I do, I will tell him to be part of the solution to the problems he perceives, or to just shut up. If the company he works for is operating in a manner unacceptable to him, his current course of action is one of the least constructive options. He would be better to be quiet, find something better and just leave. If he wants to stay, he would be better to offer to help fix whatever problems he perceives. Fouling the water supply is not helping anyone, and hopefully his coworkers realize it and filter out what he’s saying.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper