ISABELLA RODRIGUEZ HAD worked at San Antonio Signs since she was in high school. She had risen to manager by the time owner Carlos Ruiz moved the company to a suburban strip mall 12 years later, and continued to assume more responsibility as the shop’s reputation and volume grew.
Roberto “Bobby” Martinez had been hired five years before and quickly became the installation manager, while Isabella continued to take over more of the company’s operational responsibilities from Carlos.
The year before COVID hit, Carlos convinced his nephew Guillermo Ruiz to leave his construction job and come to work at San Antonio Signs, to head up the company’s growing fabrication department. Isabella and Guillermo, who were now in line to take over the company as equal partners, worked well together, even though Isabella was a “glass half-full” person while Guillermo was more a “half-empty” type.
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The only real point of contention between the two was Bobby. Isabella appreciated his laidback style and the ease with which he related to the rest of their now six-person install team and to their customers on job sites. She valued his loyalty and was willing to overlook his occasional “family crisis” and tendency to complain.
Guillermo always saw Bobby as a bit lazy and often commented about what he viewed as Bobby’s inability to maintain a level of discipline with his team. As the years passed, Bobby learned to rely on Isabella (his manager) for support and to feel comfortable with his job. He was well paid, and apart from the occasional out-of-town installation, Bobby had what he felt he needed to balance work and home life.
Then the pandemic struck. When the number of installs decreased and the shop had to adapt, Bobby did a good job pitching in with printing and fabricating new product offerings. Even Guillermo backed off his negative comments.
Finally, the first round of pandemic restrictions began to ease, and business — especially installations that had been delayed — really began to pick up for San Antonio Signs. Bobby brought the install team back full time and they soon put in considerable overtime during the months leading into the fall.
After one unexpectedly difficult autumn installation, Bobby returned to the shop complaining that while everyone else was enjoying their reclaimed freedom, he had been putting in 60-hour weeks. “When is it my turn?” he announced loudly in the break room. Isabella caught Guillermo’s subtle eye-roll and headshake, but chalked the outburst up to that night’s installation ordeal.
The next afternoon, a Saturday with two o’clock approaching, Bobby was nowhere to be found, and his install team was still waiting to start the job scheduled for that day, a raceway and channel letter package for a new store about to open. Texts, then frantic calls to Bobby’s cell went unanswered and by three o’clock, Isabella and Guillermo had to dismiss the install team for the day — as Bobby was their electrical expert — and contact the customer that the job would be put off till the next week.
After a weekend spent wondering what Bobby could have been doing to be so out of touch or if he had fallen ill or gotten hurt, Isabella watched as Bobby strolled into San Antonio Signs on Monday, his customary 15 minutes before the shop opened, whistling a popular tune. Isabella saw that Guillermo was about to start in on Bobby, so she interjected, “Where were you Saturday? You missed the Stevenson job. We had to pay your team and send them home, and contact the customer. What was so important that you couldn’t even answer a text all weekend?”
“I was at my cousin’s volleyball game,” Bobby said. “I wasn’t able to go to any last winter or spring — and, because I’ve been working my tail off, I thought I deserved a real weekend.” He turned his gaze toward Guillermo. “Other people here clock out on time every day. Why should I be the only one who has to give up his personal life because we’re backlogged on installs?”
Isabella and Guillermo looked at each other and Guillermo gave one of those raised-eyebrow-nods that could only mean, “I told you so.” However, Bobby reported to Isabella …
The Big Questions
- What should Isabella say and do?
- How much does a business really have a right to expect from an employee with regard to flexibility and time?
- Was Bobby’s decision to blow off the install deserving of a warning — or more?
Commerce City, CO
If Bobby really was the only one putting in a lot of hours, it is understandable that he felt like nobody cared. That needs to be addressed and expectations need to be understood on both sides of the issue. However, part of that understanding is that if he just decides to take the day off without telling anyone, he can expect to pick up his final check when he returns.
He would be asked to work elsewhere. His attitude is not going to ever change and it is toxic. In practice, what you see the first period is what you’ll have forever.
What’s missing from this story is the company policy on mandatory overtime. Do they have one? Was it followed? Either way, within that policy should be a limit on mandatory overtime. You simply cannot insist your employees work limitless hours.
Work-life balance is important and giving employees the ability to achieve it is a key to maintaining the loyalty and morale of a good team. However, not showing up for scheduled work, leaving co-workers idle on the clock and jeopardizing a client relationship is unacceptable. Had Bobby asked for time off, I hope that he could have been accommodated. But he didn’t. I would make it clear to him in no uncertain terms that he had breached the trust the company placed in him and that if there was a repeat performance he would be job hunting.
Holly Hill, FL
I feel Bobby had no right not to call or answer phone/texts when he was expected! If you’re not gonna show — man-up — and let the crew know. I think he should be written up and warned that that behavior will not be tolerated! I’m usually a “three strikes you’re out” person, but I’d be hard put to keep someone on if he did it a second time. There is rarely an excuse good enough to make no contact. He’d be treading thin ice if I was his superior, valued employee or not.
Eagle Bend, MN
We work to live, not live to work.
Osage Beach, MO
Bobby was wrong to purposely miss the installation day. But he was reacting to his perceived lack of power to express himself to Isabella. He was showing them how much they were depending on him and needed him when it seemed they were not showing any concern for him. Isabella was wrong to have consistently scheduled so much overtime, and to add a Saturday installation on top of that. That is too much to keep doing in the long term to any employee. Bobby would not have done this if he were not ready to lose this job. He wanted to make a point, and either they will see his value and his need for time off, or they will fire him. Isabella needs to think before she speaks. If she fires him, then she suddenly has a new problem — how to get all her overbooked installations done. If she lets his demonstration go totally unrecognized, she has future problems. She needs a private meeting with Bobby.
That was a no call no show no emergency event. Fire or demote! Since Bobby is the only electrical expert, I would not fire immediately, but demote him. He’d probably quit, but if he does not, then I have time to put an ad out to replace him. Lesson learned to not allow the attitude to fester again in an employee. Bobby is management, he had other people he was responsible for and knew there was an installation that only he knew how to direct. As a proper manager, he should have let someone know he was going to be gone and shown someone to do the parts needed. He should have let the owners know he would not be in, or at least ask. Bobby has a disrespectful attitude towards the company and its employees. I understand his frustration, but not his actions. It cost the company money and reputation. I would not trust Bobby and he will do it again if not nipped in the bud or eliminated.
While certainly a major red flag, this isolated incident alone can be, but is not likely grounds for termination. It seems the employee feels he hasn’t been properly recognized and acknowledged for his dedication during difficult times. However, this is not a reason to let the entire rest of your team down, and is grounds for a warning and discipline. There is never a reason to purposely let the team down. The bigger issue here may be more from the management side than the employee. If this employee doesn’t feel recognized for all he has done, how does the rest of the team feel? Following action with the individual employee, and understanding his issues, I would call the rest of my team together to gauge their temperature and emotions. If other employees share similar feelings, the issue does lie within the management strategy. If the rest of the team doesn’t feel the same, then your problem lies in that personality.
If he was scheduled for the install and did not show up, in my opinion, that would be job abandonment and he should be fired. He would then have plenty of time for his “real weekend.”
Winter Haven, FL
Been there many times! Employees are the lifeblood of your company! Yes, they need time off. I would give it a day or two and to allow all members to cool off and then let all know that “Communication is key” both to the client and to the team. Occasionally, we have this same issue and I have cured the timing issue with a statement to the client, in our planning/PO stage … When you think about it, your team is actually more important than the client in the long term.
Published first here: https://signsofthetimes.com/the-case-of-the-missing-installer/