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A less-than-friendly workplace

The once-positive environment among the staff at Friendly Building Supply has gotten negative, marked by whispers and backstabbing. What would you do?


If there’s one thing you’ve come to pride yourself on in all your years of operating Friendly Building Supply, it’s the fact that no matter how hard times can get, you approach each day with a positive, can-do attitude and determination to do right by others. It’s brought you a long way, this simple philosophy handed down from your grandfather. In fact, you attribute everything from your successful business to your happy marriage and well-rounded children to the fact that you smile first and treat others well.

For years you thought that you could see the positive impact of your attitude in your colleagues and employees at Friendly Building Supply. From the top down, your team members have learned that the key to doing good business is in how you present yourself to customers, coworkers, and everyone around you. It had gotten to a point where you didn’t even have to remind anyone to greet customers who come in through door with a big hello and a warm smile. That is, until recently.

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Maybe it happened during the pandemic, when your operations were temporarily turned upside down while you sorted out how to best help your customers while also keeping employees safe. Maybe it’s the constant political nit-picking and arguing that seems to be everywhere you look these days. No matter what the cause may have been, your team members have turned into what your grandpa would have called “a bunch of Negative Nellies.”

This all came to a head when, for the first time in years, you decided to conduct an exit interview when one of your top sales reps turned in their resignation. When asked why he was leaving, Steve told you in confidence that it was the attitude of the people he worked with. “I just can’t take it here anymore,” he said. “It seems the only thing anyone talks about around here is other people, and most of it isn’t at all polite.” When you asked for examples, you nearly had to pick your jaw up off the floor. Your general manager was among the worst of the offenders, Steve said. In what had quietly grown into some sort of hazing ritual, your GM assigned very unflattering nicknames to every new hire. Beyond that, there was a serious rift between yard staff and inside/ counter sales. One day, it had gotten so bad that Steve said he left work wondering if there were going to be fisticuffs in the parking lot.

Clearly you had no idea this was happening, you told Steve. And when you asked him to stay while you fix the situation, he said he’d rather work overnights at the local vegetable canning plant—for less money—than stay at Friendly Building Supply.

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What would you do?

–   FIX THE GM. From what Steve had to say, this all starts with your general manager. Get him in line and the rest will surely follow.

–   STAFF MEETING. Though it will be obvious that it came from Steve’s exit interview, bring the whole staff together for pizza and a good talk. Maybe it will work itself out that way.

–   PRIVATE CHATS. Instead of waiting to hold exit interviews once someone has decided to leave, why not hold “retention interviews?” Meet separately with team members and ask them how they like their job and what you can do (within reason) to help them like it more.

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–   INVESTIGATE FURTHER. Steve unloaded a lot of frustration on his way out the door. That doesn’t mean it’s that bad for everyone, right? Time to plug in and learn where your team is at.

What would you do?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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