Manager's Desk: Impacted by illness

Author Keith Jennings
May 01, 2016 - 10:30am

I generally consider myself to be a positive person. However, these past few weeks have tested my resolve. 

It’s not the roller-coaster daily life as a machine shop owner, but the stark reality of losing employees and friends to serious illness that’s been especially hard to take. Thankfully, illness doesn’t always mean death. 

Recently, our shop had to release a long-time employee battling cancer, while another key employee suffered an infection that required intense medical treatment for weeks, which will keep him out of work for another couple of months. These guys are young and their situations are sobering. Their unexpected vacancies have impacted our shop and required others to step up. 

To make matters even more distressing, I recently heard about two business mentors in our community who are quite ill or near death. Both are gracious, caring people who worked hard, supported our shop and referred business to us. 

Four years ago, we lost two employees to cancer, one of whom was buried in our company shirt because his tenure at our shop was the longest job he ever held. The other was only 28 years old. After pondering this reality, it makes me grateful for my own experiences. It also solidifies the knowledge that the unexpected can inflict young and old alike and remove a top employee without much warning.

When an employee is affected by an illness that causes extended absences or removal, your role as a shop owner or manager will be tested. It’s likely you, personally, will need to speak with the family and clarify insurance and employment issues, possibly dismissal, while still providing support in their difficult time. This can be strenuous because it puts you in a completely different role than day-to-day manager. Ensuring you handle the situation fairly and consistently is critical, because you can be scrutinized for any favoritism or inconsistency. The legal element is just as important as your personal feelings. 

In a machine shop, when you lose a good machinist, programmer, QC inspector or estimator, that person is going to be missed. But the business world doesn’t stop. To effectively handle it, filling the gap and moving forward requires a combination of compassion and professionalism. 

When do you finally release an ill employee? How do you release him in a way that’s sensitive and caring, but retains the operational ability of your shop? When do you replace him? These can be difficult management questions that you must be prepared to answer.

Preparing for an inevitable loss while maintaining effective leadership, and without letting emotions cloud your judgement, is a serious test. Unfortunately, I’ve had plenty of experience with this. No situation or family is exactly alike, and you never know how people will react, especially when the employee can no longer work and you must write a release letter.

When such an event occurs, hopefully, your ability to manage things besides cash flow, sales and a new equipment purchases are effective.

My thoughts and prayers remain with all these families, including any within your organizations.


Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.