The Dirty Secrets about Side Work - The 7-Power Contractor

The Dirty Secrets about Side Work

The Dirty Secret about Side Work is that it has been around forever in the contracting business. What this means for those who are unfamiliar with the term “Side Work,” it refers to a Tech who also has their own business to bring in extra money and they’re potentially taking your calls for themselves or just not being available to you and your company.

To better understand this dynamic, I wanted to share an exchange I had with a contractor about this all-too-common employee-employer issue. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.)

First exchange: John (not his real name) wrote: “Al, I have a situation with a Technician where his attitude has really changed in the last 6 months. He’s becoming more and more arrogant, showing me less respect as his boss and shooting out of his mouth especially in front of clients and other staff members. What should I do?”

I responded, “Unfortunately, he may be a good Tech but it sounds like he feels he is holding you hostage and I know how that feels from being in your position once upon a time at my family plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical company. The reason I’m guessing he feels this way is he doesn’t see any one competing at your company for his truck. So, this perception tends to make Techs feel this way and it puts Owners like you into a compromising position. I say this because once upon a time at my company and at many of my 1-1 clients I first came to work with through the years also had this going on. Possibly, he may have his own side business and that means working for you may not be his only means of support.

“Still, he’s not right for treating you that way. Employers and employees should always strive to treat one another with respect or agree to split up and go their separate ways if this relationship can’t be salvaged to everyone’s benefit.”

Second exchange:
John wrote back, “Al, you guessed it. He does have a side business. As a matter of fact, just today he borrowed a ladder from the company to do a side job without my OK. Worse than that, he left his vehicle in the way, so I had to move it. When I moved it, I found a check on the front seat of the truck. I knew the name on the check looked familiar, so I checked my company records. Sure enough, my company did work for this person a couple of months ago. This check was made payable to this Tech.”

My reply was, “Yep, I’m not surprised. I bet if you check your call count it may have been slowly dropping and you might have chalked it up to the economy alone while he was probably siphoning your hard-earned calls away. He’s probably telling customers to save themselves some money and let him come back and do the work on the side.”

Third exchange:
He followed up with, “Al, my questions to you are:

  1. Should I call the customer and ask them if this Tech did any work for them on the side?
  2. Did you ever have to deal with this issue at your company? And if so, how did you handle it?”

I shot back a reply, “The answer to question #1 is you can call but the customer is likely to deny it.

“If you know them, you might pop over and show them the check if you have a copy of it since it’s tougher to lie face to face, or you can tell them you have the check in hand and wanted to know why it’s made out to the Tech.

“Remember, you can’t restrict the customer from using who they feel like using. You also can’t restrict who the Tech serves except if it’s explicitly stated in your operating manuals and it’s signed off on. If he had done that, it’s grounds for dismissal.

“The answer to your second question is yes, it did happen at my shop in the beginning of my career at my company. But it became way less frequent, if happening at all, because I made our policy on side work very clear to my techs verbally, in writing in their manuals, and every other way possible.

“I told them I understood the temptation to do side work but that they couldn’t compete with the company by serving my clients in any capacity and they needed to make themselves available to me when I call since I provide the majority of their income and benefits available to them.

“Also, I let them know that I was tracking this and if I caught them moving my truck (easier today with GPS) or got wind of this, I would confront the Tech and I would counsel the customer too. Although the Customer thought they were saving money, I shared that they were taking on a great risk to their property and to their safety when they bypassed us as there’s licensing and insurance considerations to factor in.

“When this became part of the Orientation Process as they were hired and in recurring weekly meetings and in the Operating Manuals, this policy clearly stated that there was no second or third warning…they were gone!…in so many words.”

Okay, if you know me, you know that instead of continuing this conversation in back and forth non-verbal platforms, I invited John to join me for a free 30-minute meeting where I could find out more about his business and dial in my advice on how he could proactively keep this from happening again, or at least minimizing it.

John said when we got to his free 30-minute meeting, “Al, thanks for meeting with me. What is your advice on how to approach the Tech on his side work at my customer’s home? Should I question him if he has been doing a Side Hustle for our other customers and see what his answer is. See if he comes clean. Or should I just go ahead and confront him and tell him I saw the check on the front seat of his vehicle?”

I said, “I think you’ve probably had a gut feeling and known for a while what he’s been doing but were afraid to confront him. That’s because a lot of contractors are afraid they have to fire them and find someone new. That said I don’t know that he’ll come clean now.

“But here’s the thing. When an employee lies, cheats or steals, they violate the basic tenet of a positive working relationship between owner and employee no matter what.

“You have the check or hopefully a copy of it and you are welcome to ask before you act. My advice is to consult with your HR Advisor. But, I’d be prepared to let him go if doable because he can promise to change his ways but if he knew the policy, he stepped over the line.”

John replied, “Yeah, I’ve known I needed to start looking for another tech for a while. What advice do you have on hiring new Techs and avoiding this situation in the future?”

Here’s what I told him: “If you hire one or two young apprentices and train them right, they’ll be better employees than this Tech probably ever was. This will be especially true if you get out there and help and encourage them.

“You still need your policies and procedures in writing to cover things like not permitting side work—or at least not permitting it at your customers, which is another reason the manuals are so helpful.

“But if you had manuals, the training of new hires would be so much easier. Here’s the good news….you can still start by creating bulleted job descriptions going forward for the work you do if you are not in a position to create full blown manuals. Just make sure the policies like side work are covered.

“The other thing you want to get in place right away are what I call the Steps of Corrective Action. These are the steps you take with every staff member based on objective evidence so you know how to proceed when you catch someone doing something wrong. You’ll be in a much better position to either coach them back to being on track or to get them gone. “

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