Adventures in Supervision: What I found when checking on employees

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by Tom Watson on January 10, 2016

Owning a business can be a blast if you think about it. You get to have fun doing your own thing, while everyone else has to go to work.

I enjoy it more than you can imagine, but not every day is a piece of cake if you know what I mean. You do have your “trials and tribulations”.

A few of those occurred when I made the rounds and checked on my staff. To set the stage, after hiring people I normally tried to stay close to them for a while after they worked on their own. I did so because I wanted to make sure they were doing what I asked of them.

Checking on people always made me feel a little nervous, as I didn’t know what to expect. The honest truth is most people you hire are complete strangers to you. Even if you interview them a time or two then spend a few days training them, you don’t REALLY KNOW THEM. That takes a while!

So performing spot checks gave me a little anxiety because I would hope and pray that what I found was acceptable. And most of the time, all was OK! My fear was kind of irrational to be honest, but “sometimes” I found things didn’t sit too well with me.

The employee who “subbed out” her job

I found this lady who was a true superstar at cleaning. She was not only good, but fast, and that is a rare combination. The downside was that she worked for a temp agency. I had the good fortune of having her sent my way whenever I called the agency looking for some extra helpers because I was in a pinch.

She was consistently good over perhaps ten different times we had her working for us so I decided to offer her a job working for me instead of the temp agency. This arrangement hardly ever works out, but I thought she was worth a try. Anyway… I bring her on and all started out good at first.

Then one time I go out to and perform a spot check and ANOTHER person was in the account cleaning. I walk in and ask where my employee was and this unknown person tells me they are filling in for that person. I asked how long has this been going on, and they said a few weeks. YIKES!

After some investigation it turns out I was paying my employee $12 per hour, and she turned around and was paying this person $8 per hour to do the work for her and was POCKETING THE DIFFERENCE. You can file this one under the category titled “ultra creative” or perhaps better yet “terminated immediately”.

The “dynamic duo” who worked mystery hours

I had this one guy who was a decent cleaner and worked alone. He used to take a company truck and go out by himself five days per week at night. As my company got bigger, I gave him more work per evening and a helper to get the added work done on time. It was win-win. More jobs for me and more hours for him.

This arrangement worked for quite a few years. Everything didn’t always go smoothly, but on the whole I was happy. But then I just happened to be out checking a job when I saw the truck they use traveling down the road. I waved them over because the direction they were coming from didn’t make any sense.

They were traveling from an area that they had no business being anywhere near. I asked them what they were doing and they were “vague” on the specifics. I didn’t want to make a fuss at that moment so I let them continue on. I did FILE that incident mentally for further investigation however.

The issue was, if they weren’t truthful about being so far off their route, WHAT ELSE were they lying about? After talking with Sue we decided to stay at the office late at night and see what time they were getting done each night. We could sit inside and see when they pulled in and finished.

We wanted to see if that time MATCHED the time on their time sheets. The way their schedule was set up, they simply kept a log book in the truck that indicated what time they got done each night. I would then tally up the hours and cut them a check every two weeks. That may seem like I was trusting them a lot, but that was the easiest way for me.

I didn’t want to sit waiting for them until 11 PM AFTER being at the office all day. I was burning the candle at both ends at this point. Keep in mind I did check on them from time to time early on in their employment and they were honest on the time sheets. Over time I got a little LAZY and stopped checking. BIG MISTAKE as it turned out!

To cut to the chase, we stayed at the office every night for close to two weeks, and EVERY SINGLE NIGHT they lied on their time sheets. Some nights they added an EXTRA hour, which means TWO HOURS for me as it’s one per employee. That is money DOWN THE DRAIN for me. We had to let them go sadly, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

I’ll wrap this up by saying if you just take the time to hire the right people and stay on top of them regularly you will be just fine. I got myself into trouble by getting LAZY and not following up on people like I should. If people know you will never check on them some will take liberties. If they do it’s not their fault, it’s your fault.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Raymon Samuel January 11, 2016 at 8:22 pm

While serving in the US Navy, we were always told, What The Boss Watches, Gets Done.

Now, I only have one employee right now, so, we work together for the time being, however, when we start to grow, he will become s superior.

However, thanks for the reminder.

2 Tom Watson January 12, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Thanks Raymon! That’s a good one.

3 Gayn Borland September 14, 2016 at 9:36 pm

A few months ago my business partner (my daughter) and I hired a young lady to help with various jobs. After working out really well for two months and earning an early raise, we couldn’t reach her for the next job. Nor did she return any text messages, emails, phone calls. We even tried to reach her via her Mother. No return calls, nothing. I mailed her her last check and found that she did cash it. After some investigation, we found that she and a new customer had worked it out for the customer to cancel our service and hired our employee directly. So much for trusting an employee too soon. We’ve learned a number of lessons from that experience.

4 Tom Watson September 14, 2016 at 10:41 pm

I feel your pain. Stinks when that happens. Sadly some employees (and customers for that matter) set a pretty low bar for themselves.

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