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

I have witnessed what stress can cause, up close.

In a few cases, a good veteran produce manager survived the rigors of a new store or a remodel. The manager went through the grand opening, worked far more hours than he or she should, never complaining, everyone on the crew said, as if that made it acceptable. Then (also without saying much), the produce manager stepped down. Or quit altogether.

This can and should be prevented.

In an online article, “Taking companies and individuals from distress to de-stress,” this point is taken: “(Stress) has a cumulative effect. ... As a result, more and more personnel will suffer from poor health, causing them to resign from their posts.”

Many managers with similar experiences will attest to working countless days in a row and round-the-clock hours and boast no ill effects. Either they’re superhuman or they simply aren’t telling the truth.

The truth is that a big project like a new store or, worse, a remodel takes a toll on produce managers. The transition from a 40-hour week to double or triple this total, coupled with no days off in many cases, overworks the one person that a chain needs the most in order to be successful.

Many times, it’s self-inflicted.

“No, I’ll be here,” the produce manager usually says, as he looks at what is supposed to be a day off on the work schedule. “I’ll take time off after the dust clears.”

As a supervisor in such situations, we typically overloaded the schedule during remodel projects. We brought in extra produce managers from nearby stores to help set up, train, and work during (and beyond) the remodel grand opening. These seasoned veterans were brought in to help maintain standards throughout the process.

They were also brought in to give the regular produce manager some time off.

Oh, the remodel store’s produce manager more than often would do more than protest. A remodel project, with its hundreds of details swimming in the produce manager’s head, can be overwhelming, and often leads to too much pressure for one person. They heroically insisted on staying on for the duration, not realizing their own health is at risk.

So I and another supervisor would corner the produce manager.

“We don’t want to see you for the next two days,” we said firmly. “We don’t care what you do. Go to the movies, get reacquainted with your family. Just don’t come in here.”

The produce manager never liked this order at the time, but when they returned they were refreshed and ready to go again. We made sure this became a regular pattern.

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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