Greenhouse Canada

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Coping With Co-Workers


July 6, 2009
By Michael Lascelle

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Often, the hardest part of working in a garden centre is not dealing with customers, hectic spring schedules or inventory turnovers – but coping with the workplace politics arising from staff conflicts. When you think about it, we often spend more of our waking hours at work than we do with friends or family, so it only makes good sense to try to maintain a positive relationship with our co-workers. While sustaining a harmonious staff is a skill that some find akin to alchemy, in reality what it really takes is the persistent efforts of the nursery owner(s), management and the staff itself in order to maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Often, the hardest part of working in a garden centre is not dealing with customers, hectic spring schedules or inventory turnovers – but coping with the workplace politics arising from staff conflicts. When you think about it, we often spend more of our waking hours at work than we do with friends or family, so it only makes good sense to try to maintain a positive relationship with our co-workers. While sustaining a harmonious staff is a skill that some find akin to alchemy, in reality what it really takes is the persistent efforts of the nursery owner(s), management and the staff itself in order to maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect.

The reasons for wanting a congenial staff are simple – because workplace discord leads to personal conflict, conflict takes time and effort away from customer service and when customer service suffers, so do profits. You may think that your average client is only coming to buy plants or garden-related products, but most times, they are there to receive person-to-person advice that leads to the sales. Take the people out of the equation and all you really have is a box-store scenario with lots of plants crowded on benches and no one around to sell or care for them – and while this approach may work for mass marketers briefly during the spring rush, it is a recipe for business suicide in the independent nursery market.
 
The root of the problem
In my 30 years of full-time employment I have come to realize that workplace conflicts usually boil down to just four possible causes: a lack of discipline, jealousy, staff shortages and misguided ambition.

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The lack of discipline is common in younger employees and a select few who refuse to grow up and shoulder responsibility. While younger staff should be given the time to mature into the position, I’m not so sure that the same courtesy should be extended to long-term staffers, as they have already made the decision not to take their work seriously. Jealousy comes into play when new, well-qualified staff come on board and are given more responsibility, or simply do a better job of sales. Here, you have to assure existing staff of their value and gently (I cannot overemphasize this point, as a heavy hand will only worsen the problem) show them how they too can improve.

Staff shortages are bound to happen sooner or later and can be particularly stressful during busy periods. Overworked employees can and will get irritable – so try to have some casual staff available on an on-call basis to try to alleviate this seasonal stress. Misguided ambition is the most damaging cause of workplace stress as it involves one ambitious employee trying to gain favour by denigrating the work of other staffers, usually behind their backs. This person often spends more time finger-pointing and complaining than actually getting any work done and it is important for the manager to privately confront them and remind them that the existing staff are there because the owners or management believe they are doing a good job.

If as an employee you cannot resolve an ongoing person-to-person conflict, then you should be asking your manager to help you resolve the matter. As a manager (or owner-manager), it is important to keep a sharp eye out for potential stresses and deal with them before they develop into full-blown workplace conflicts. To put it succinctly, an ounce of intervention is worth a pound of cure.

Reviewing the stereotypes
Over the years, I have noticed that some people tend to exhibit the same quirky behaviour in a variety of workplace scenarios (including garden centres) and I have learned to classify them with my own idiocentric descriptive titles. These stereotypes are not meant to be taken seriously; rather, they are a tongue-in-cheek way for us to possibly self-evaluate and, if need be, make the appropriate changes in order to become better employees and co-workers.

The Race Horse – The “race horse” tends to work with blinders on – so focused on the task in front of them that they often ignore customers or simply defer to co-workers, increasing the co-workers’ workload.

The Tour Guide – There is such a thing as too much customer service and the “tour guide” is the best example of this. These people will often take an excessive amount of time to answer trivial questions or personally guide the customer through the garden centre with no regard for sales or the work they have left behind.

The Pretender – As the name implies, “the pretender” pretends to know all the answers, often assuring customers with some very bad or at least misleading advice. They never defer to the staff horticulturist or simply say, “I don’t know, but I can find out for you” – they would rather fake it and in doing so, possibly damage the nursery’s reputation.

The Disappearing Act – The “disappearing act” never seems to be around except on coffee, lunch or bathroom breaks. They put great effort into blending into the background and prefer to work by themselves, away from customer demands.

The Changeling – The “changeling” will not allow any one else to create a display without improving it to his or her tastes. By constantly redoing the work that others have completed, they never really get around to doing their own.

The Pressure Cooker – A perfectly normal employee consistently transforms into a testy, unproductive staff member every time a little stress comes their way. The “pressure cooker” allows his or her small worries to accumulate to such a point that they are overwhelmed by emotion and temporarily disabled from doing a proper job.


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