During the summer of my freshman year in college, I worked for a small private landscaping company planting shrubs, seeding new lawns, cutting grass, and tending flower gardens. The company was located in my hometown of Seaview, N.J., which is a rural community on the coast about 80 miles from Philadelphia. The company was owned and run by Joe Brewster, a 45-year-old man who had lived in Seaview all his life. He had started the company some years ago and not only handled the paperwork (payroll, bills, estimates, and so on), but also worked along with the crew six days a week.
The crew consisted of five guys ranging in age from 17 to 20 years. We all lived in towns around Seaview and had gone to the regional high school, which was located in Seaview. Only two of us were attending college, but all had been hired personally by Joe following a short, informal interview. I can’t be completely certain about the others, but I think all of us and several others sought the job because we needed work, enjoyed the outdoors, and had heard that Joe paid well and was an OK guy to work for. Working hours were from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an hour off for lunch, Monday through Saturday. Once in a while we’d work overtime to help out some customer who had an urgent need. Each worker began at the same base wage and was eligible for bonuses based on the number of customers he or she referred to Joe that actually resulted in a landscaping contract. Also, we were hired with the understanding that hard workers would be rehired the next summer at a higher wage. Several of the crew I was part of had been rehired under this policy.
Most of the customers we serviced lived in Seaview, knew Joe personally, and seemed to respect him. Joe owned one truck which he used to transport all of us and necessary supplies and equipment from job to job. Each morning he would read off a list of houses that had to be completed that day. He would then leave it up to us to decide among ourselves who would do what task while at a particular house. We also were the ones who determined by our work pace how long we would spend at each house. In doing the work itself, we were able to use our own ideas and methods. If we did a good job, Joe would always compliment us.
If we lacked the necessary know-how or did a poor job, Joe was right there willing to help us. At each house, Joe worked along with us doing basically the same work we did. He dressed the same as we did and was always very open and friendly toward us. He seldom “showed his authority,” and treated us as equals. Although our workday was scheduled to begin at 8, Joe never became upset or penalized us if we were 10 or 15 minutes late. Our lunch hour was usually an hour long starting anytime between 11:30 and 12:30 depending on what time we, the crew, felt like eating. Each member brought his own lunch to work and anytime during the day could take time off to go to the truck for a snack.
The crew itself became very well acquainted, and we were always free to talk and joke with each other at any time and did so. We enjoyed each other’s company, although we did not socialize after hours. We also became very friendly with the customers. They were always eager to talk to us as we worked, and Joe never objected. All in all, the job had a very relaxed, easygoing atmosphere. I for one felt little pressure to hurry and, like the others, respected and liked Joe very much.
The attitude we had toward the job was very high. We sometimes talked among ourselves about how we felt a sense of responsibility toward the job. While we talked and joked a lot while working, little horseplay occurred; and the talking and joking did not interfere with the work. We were always working steadily and efficiently, seeking to keep ahead of schedule. The days seemed to go fairly quickly and a lot seemed to get done. I know Joe said that our output was 15 percent above that which other landscaping companies experienced with summer crews. We also took a lot of pride in our work. Feeling responsible for the job we did, we were constantly checking and rechecking every job to be sure it was perfect. We were always willing to work overtime for Joe when he needed us to do so.
I returned the following summer to work for Joe because of the strong satisfaction I had with the job the summer before. So did the others. However, we were in for a surprise. Many things had changed. Joe had increased the number of workers to 10, bought another truck, and hired two young college graduates from Philadelphia as crew supervisors. His plan was to concentrate on the paperwork and on lining up new customers, leaving the direct guidance of the two work crews to the new supervisors.
Joe had hired the two supervisors during the early spring after interviewing a number of applicants. Both were young (23 and 24), from the city, and had degrees in agricultural management from Penn State, but had not known each other previously.
We “old timers” were assigned to one crew and five new workers were hired for the other crew. Because the job market was tighter this year, we were hired at the same base pay as the five new workers, but we were told that we would still be able to make bonus money based on referrals but the new people didn’t have this option. These new workers had little experience in landscaping. Except for the working hours, which were the same as during the previous summer, the two supervisors were told that they could run their crew in any manner they wished as long as they kept to the schedule prepared by Joe. No one on the crew had known the supervisors before. Joe had found them through ads in the paper.
The supervisors didn’t dress quite as informally as Joe did, perhaps because they didn’t do as much actual physical work, but they did dress casually in dungarees and shirts, the same as the crew. Though we called the supervisors by their first names, they did some nit-picky things. For example, Joe never cared who drove the truck or who did what job; sometimes a crew member would drive and Joe would talk with the rest of us. But the supervisors always drove the truck and decided when we would eat. Nor did the supervisors help us unload the tools as Joe had done. They stood around and watched us.
Both supervisors refused to tolerate tardiness in the morning and immediately set up a scheduled lunch hour which would remain the same throughout the summer. We were no longer allowed to go to the truck for a snack during the day and were constantly being watched over by our supervisor. The supervisors assigned us to specific tasks to be done at each job and told us how “they” wanted them to be completed. They also told us how much time we were to spend doing each job. They refused to let us talk to each other or to the customers (except about business) saying that it “only wasted time and interfered with our work.” It was a more structured, more formal atmosphere than the summer before.
I was disappointed at the new setup and a little bit surprised that Joe hadn’t hired one of the more experienced members of the old crew as supervisor. But I figured it was necessary because of the increased volume of business so I tried to make the best of it. However, very soon my attitude and that of the rest of the old crew fell significantly. We began to hate the new supervisors and soon lost interest in the work itself. While I’m a person who usually is very conscientious and responsible, I have to admit that before long I, along with the others began, to put little care or concern into my work. The supervisors soon found it very difficult to get anyone to work overtime.
The new employees didn’t react as strongly as we did, but I could tell that they weren’t working with much enthusiasm, either.
I thought about talking to the supervisors but didn’t because I’d only worked there the one year and figured that it was not my place to. The others were older than I and had worked there longer so I figured that they should, but no one did. Instead, we talked among ourselves and individually griped to Joe. Joe didn’t seem to know how to deal with our complaints. He passed them off by saying, “Oh … I’ll talk to the supervisors and straighten it out with them.” But nothing changed, and in fact they seemed to clamp down more and push even harder. This only made us madder. Our work rate continued to fall. Incidentally, throughout this period we had little social interaction with the supervisors, but I noticed that they became more and more friendly with each other.
Meanwhile the new crew’s difficulties increased. Being new and inexperienced, they couldn’t do the work as easily as we could. Also the supervisors didn’t, or couldn’t, give them any adequate training. Their productivity went lower and lower. The supervisors were very upset and yelled at them, pushing them to get out their quota. We felt sorry for them and tried to help them; but we concentrated on reluctantly meeting our own quota.
I don’t think Joe realized that the supervisors were not teaching the new crewmen. He was very busy and not around much, and I think he assumed that they were training the new men. I think he began to put pressure on the supervisors as the work rate fell, because things continued to get worse. We couldn’t talk to customers, which surprised them. We couldn’t even accept drinks. Production lagged greatly as compared to the previous summer, and the two supervisors struggled to meet the schedule and deal with customer complaints about quality. By July 15th, the overall productivity of the company was 5 percent below “normal” and way below the previous summer.
As Joe became aware of this huge decrease in production, he became very concerned and wondered what to do about it.
Source: Adapted from Allan R. Cohen, Stephen L. Fink, Herman Gadon, and Robin D. Willits, Effective Behavior in Organizations, 5th ed. Copyright © 1992. Reproduced with permission of the McGraw-Hill Company
1.Use motivation theories to (a) explain why the workers were motivated during the first summer and (b) suggest what the new supervisors should have done to motivate the new workers in the second summer. 2.(a) Using one of the leadership theories discussed in our text, classify the leadership styles of Joe and the two new supervisors, citing facts from the case to support your classification. (b) Use the same leadership theory to assess the impact of their leadership styles.
3.Using organizational behaviour theory and facts from the case to support your points of view, identify: (a) all the individual sources of power and (b) all the influence tactics used by Joe and the two new supervisors. 4.(a) What are all the personal and structural sources of conflict currently evident at Brewster-Seaview? (b) Identify and evaluate (using facts from the case to defend your choices) the interpersonal conflict management styles used by each people mentioned in the case. 5.Recommend an action plan for Joe to help him improve the effectiveness of Brewster-Seaview Landscaping in the short term (the rest of this summer) and for the long term (next summer.)
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