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My husband’s boss has mentally quit her business

THE QUESTION:

My spouse is a pharmacist. The retail pharmacy where he works was originally owned by two partners, a man and a woman. The male partner, who retired last year, was intensely dedicated to the business and the job. The female pharmacist, who was left in charge, is not. She sits on the board of a financial institution, takes roles on committees, and generally loves to be away from work. When she is on site, she's often playing games on her iPad.

She is capable and smart but does not seem to understand how hard her staff are working or that the customers want to see her, as the owner, in front of the pharmacy more often. This is problematic because the business is marketed as a privately owned one where personal and professional service can be expected as opposed to the big chain stores.

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To make matters worse, the pharmacy needs work. It was renovated, but only with aesthetics in mind. The new layout means staff have to walk three times farther to fill prescriptions. The debit machine is on dial-up mode and customers complain. Work schedules are posted at the last minute. The employees work well as a team, but little is being done to improve morale. Christmas and summer get-togethers have been cancelled.

No one knows how to approach the owner, who can be volatile, with their concerns. They fear being fired, mistreated or denied a reference. What do you suggest?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

Have the staff start logging customer complaints and have customers sign them. The boss might not like to hear complaints from employees, but she can't very well ignore complaints from her customers.

Is it possible to talk to the retired owner? If he still has a stake in the business, he should care about how his business is being managed.

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The employees can still hold their own softball games and celebrations and act like a team without management involvement.

Life is 90 per cent attitude, and 10 per cent what happens to you. Think of the slow dial-up time as a chance to build rapport with customers. The extra steps in the layout mean more calories burned.

With respect to scheduling, have each employee submit their availability mid-month for the following month.

You can't control how people act or communicate, and you can't change other people unless they want to change. Act as if she isn't there. Because she often isn't.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Heather MacKenzie

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The Integrity Group, Vancouver

If you want to be helpful, urge your spouse (whom I will call "he") to sit down and collect his thoughts on paper as to the operational changes needed; make sure his suggestions are constructive and not personalized, for example, commenting about someone's heavy perfume and Mediterranean temper is not only unhelpful but offensive stereotyping. The key is to have your spouse identify his needs, wants, and fears as they relate to his goals and priorities for the pharmacy.

Then have a meeting with all the employees and get them to generate lists of their own.

If the employees are a cohesive group, then everyone will have identified similar items which should serve as a framework for discussion with the owner. That is where diplomacy and tact are required: the discussion with the owner should follow the theme of "we love working here, we are loyal, and just like you, we want to see the business flourish and grow."

Nobody should get positional, and above all, no one should justify matters by saying, "this is how we did it before," since it will only polarize the sides even more.

Once everyone embraces the fact that they are all stakeholders in the business's success, positive change can happen. That's not possible until open and honest dialogue with the owner takes place. So if the employees are unwilling to take that step, the reality is that they should look for work elsewhere.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Nine To Five Contributor

Colleen Clarke is a corporate trainer and career specialist in Toronto. She is a highly recognized career specialist, corporate trainer, and public speaker in the areas of career management and transition, communication and networking. For the past 18 years she has motivated, inspired and counseled thousands of groups and individuals to maximize their career potential. More

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