Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

I recently spoke to someone who proclaimed rather proudly that as a produce manager he worked, on average, 70 hours per week.

“On average,” I suggested, “That is a sign of an ineffective produce manager.”

Is there ever a good reason for a produce manager to all but set up a cot in the stock room, lest his (or her) department fall to pieces? I’ll admit that yes, on occasion. I’ll get to that in a moment.

But first, it’s best to look at why a produce manager would be compelled to work 70 (or even more) hours per week.

  • Control-freak manager: This manager believes that the produce department cannot function without him personally making every single decision and quadruple-checking invoices into the wee hours.

  • Reluctant-to-delegate produce manager: Often, this is a capable, hard-working produce manager who buries himself in his work and makes no demands or establishes any discipline with his crew.

  • The helicopter-produce manager: This manager hovers above his crew, rarely allowing them to finish a project without intervention. This manager doesn’t leave until every shift has been closely hovered.

Any of these traits look familiar? It isn’t that these (or any combination of the incomplete list) are poor produce managers, but they could use some guidance to prevent burnout.

An effective produce manager (on salary or not) should aspire to work no more than 45 hours a week.

This is achieved by reliance on the crew. The assistant produce manager for example, should be able to do perform all manager tasks. Delegate at least a rotating share of these responsibilities.

I’ll admit there is one temporary exception to the rule.

It’s when a produce manager accepts a new assignment, be it a new store or a transfer to an existing store. If the crew skills are lacking, the produce manager can reasonably push the hours limit.

One effective manager I knew said that for the first month he practically lived at a store, training every member of his crew.

“I’d pull each of them aside after we put displays together, after we cleaned and stocked and signed everything. I’d look them in the eye and firmly say, ‘This is what I expect from now on.’”

After the initial month, he returned to a 40-hour week, and thereafter held his crew accountable — with excellent results.

This exception withstanding, if the produce managers I supervised worked more than 45 hours, I suggested that for everyone’s sake, they re-evaluate their effectiveness.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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