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Maggie Harlow

How to Manage Shop Workers Who Don’t Slow Down

It’s great to have incredibly committed employees, but there’s a potential downside to them.




I HAVE A RECENTLY hired employee off to an incredible start. Let’s call her Janice. While she is new to our industry, she is whip smart, hard working and as lovable as you could want. When I’m walking out the door at day end, I see her at her desk, focused on getting another task done. She beats me to work most mornings, too.

Ideal employee, in every way. “Wow, I’m so lucky!” I say as I walk past her, unable even to catch her eye. And indeed, I am lucky. But is she?

Once the “drinking from the firehose” stage of learning a new job passes, are these habits of hers going to serve her? Or me? Anyone?

Trust me — I’m all about “the grind” at work. I love what I do and I love my team, so being at work is hardly work most days. I might check my email more than once on weekends just for reassurance everything is “OK” in my work world. And yes, I take my laptop on vacations.

While I love employees with the “grind” mentality, I’ve learned, by my own failures, the very bad side to it. After watching several employees go through the lifecycle of too much grind, I have built new habits. Here’s the lifecycle I’ve experienced:

  • New employee, bright eyed and smart, jumps on board and can immediately move the needle in our business!
  • This employee takes on tons of initiative, works super hard to get up to speed.
  • Next, the employee gets a promotion or volunteers to take on extra tasks.
  • At this stage, they aren’t slowing down — they speed up. They seem to have unlimited capacity and talk about their inability to “let go” or relax. They are involved in so much of the business, you’ve taken your eye off of things they are now running.
  • As an owner, it’s easy to now take credit for developing this great employee and bringing out their capacity. You brag about them, marvel at them and continue to enjoy the benefits of their superhuman effort. You brag to them about how much you appreciate their efforts and talents.
  • Eventually, cracks start to appear. Lost weekends, extra hours, the stress begins to show through, but you are so reliant on their amazing effort, you aren’t sure how to take any burden off. Worse, they will argue against taking the burden off. They see themselves as instrumental to your business and they don’t want a reason to doubt it’s real.
  • Finally, there is some kind of breakdown. One bad day they might walk out. You might find yourself in a battle over an important decision. Or they become toxic to your other employees, smothering any shining stars that may want to take on added responsibilities or learning.
  • Fallout is real. You could lose them and all the history and knowledge they have, or if they stay, find yourself in a protracted battle for control.

I’ve been through this cycle more than once and it always disappoints me. I’ve had really wonderful employees who I didn’t nurture and manage correctly.


Managing sometimes isn’t about getting more out of an employee — sometimes it’s about getting less. Encouraging them to take breaks. Reminding them they don’t need to hold up the sky. Cross training others to do their job, or cross training them into a new role. Watching for burnout and helping keep your employees for the long term is your responsibility.

I’ve started talking to Janice about walking away from her computer, getting out the door on time, asking for help, and in general, learning that now she is becoming an expert in her work, she can sometimes prioritize her needs over her project’s needs!

Maggie Harlow is the CEO of Signarama Downtown Louisville (Louisville, KY), one of the largest and most prestigious locations for the global sign franchise. Contact Maggie at



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