"I didn't come this past Saturday because I didn't work last Tuesday," Mary told me Monday.

Tad Troilo "You were sick last Tuesday," I reminded her.

"Terribly," she agreed.

"But you were better by last Wednesday."

"A little rest does wonders."

"And you were fine all the rest of the week, right?"

"I was. Thanks for asking."

"So I assume you were fine on Saturday?" I chanced.

"Fit as a fiddle," she answered, cheerfully.

"Then you should have come into work," I stated, just as cheerfully.

She smiled and gave her head a lofty shake. "Check the schedule," she said. "I never work Saturday when I am off Tuesday."

It was my own fault, really. Mary was hired when we were short-handed. We need coverage, especially on the weekends. For her own reasons, she requested a rather complicated schedule: off every Thursday afternoon and every fourth Tuesday, and, as she mentioned, she didn't want to work the Saturday following her Tuesday off. Oh, and she needed an hour and a half for lunch Mondays.

As a company, we strive to have close, personal relationships with our employees. We view business as a true partnership between the owners and the employees. With partnership comes respect. It's appreciated that people have commitments outside of the workplace, and that everyone's life follows a different timetable. This translates into a great deal of flexibility in work schedules.

I must say, I had never made a schedule as schizophrenic as Mary's. Still, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

But in this case, the very reason I was eager to adopt a varied, almost crazy schedule for Mary was neglected. We needed coverage Saturdays.

I explained this to Mary, and she seemed to understand.

"I should work Saturdays," she said.

"Unless you're not supposed to," I added.

"Which is after I don't work Tuesday."

"Unless you are sick ..."

"On Saturday?"

"On Tuesday," I corrected her.

Things went got back to normal for a week, but then Mary missed another Saturday, then the next after that.

I sat down with her to find out what was happening.

"You know," she said. "It's just a whirlwind."

"What's a whirlwind?" I asked.

"Life," she answered with that same lofty smile.

Our philosophy of partnership has served the company well. I'm proud to say our staff appreciates the respect it's given and returns it several times over in hard work, reliability, and trustworthiness. Over the years, as a manager, I have had the pleasure to watch employees come into our business and flourish in this environment of mutual respect.

I also have seen my fair share of those who mistake respect for gullibility.

I did not return Mary's smile. I explained in rather sharp terms the need for basic adherence to a schedule–one tailored to her requests–and my inability to tolerate any further deviation.

As I reviewed with her the work left undone by her latest absences, she quietly stood up and, wordless, left my office and the showroom.

That she quit in a manner that I found disrespectful was no surprise. But although her departure left Saturdays uncovered yet again, I felt a sense of relief. I now had the opportunity to find us a new partner.

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa.
E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com