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Interior designers, please stop doing these 5 things to your employees!

I remember the first time my boss made me cry.  I had worked hard on a successful submission to design a room for the San Francisco Decorator Showcase.  The big first meeting was coming up that evening.

Me: Do you want to carpool to the meeting or meet there? 

Boss: Look at you – assuming you are invited to this meeting! 

Me: *holds back tears*

Boss: Well, I guess if you go home and put some makeup on you can come.

Welp, I did exactly that and cried all the way home to Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”  I wasn’t sure what was more hurtful: being told my appearance wasn’t good enough or being told my contributions to the successful submission didn’t matter. Sadly this bad behavior by interior design bosses is the rule, not the exception. 

Why am I telling you this?  One of our core values is collaboration over competition – and competition for interior design talent is fierce right now!  So I give you my list that no one asked for (literally not one person) on what interior designers get wrong about retaining employees.

1. Last-minute and late-night cramming for meetings

Work-life balance is one of the most important values we hold as a company. The old way of working past 5 pm, working weekends, and frantic last-minute presentation prep is not friendly to working parents (or to anyone!) and creates unnecessary stress.  This literally never happens in our company. We have created systems and procedures to ensure everyone has plenty of time to finish their portion of the design presentation during normal working hours.

2. Accepting all clients (or champagne tastes on beer budgets)

One of the other ways interior designers sabotage their employees is by taking on clients that have champagne tastes on beer budgets. There is nothing more frustrating than being asked to create a beautiful, functional room for clients who cannot afford to properly pay for your time or the furniture that would work. These clients then end up questioning their time bills and becoming disappointed. This is not fun for anyone involved!

3. Blaming your employees for your own disorganization

When I started Coddington Design I vowed to make sure my employees felt valued. If I’m honest, I learned this lesson the hard way. I used to blame employees for problems that really were systemic to our company.  I finally got leadership coaching for myself and started taking a hard look in the mirror.  Now when something isn’t going well, I make sure to check all our systems and policies because 99% of the time, whatever isn’t working is not your team’s fault. I’ve hired sales coaches, operations coaches, and paid for various business consultants for my team.  

4. Taking Credit for your employee’s design

Do we really think that Kelly Wearstler or (insert big name designer here) is designing every nook and cranny of every house, hotel, and restaurant she designs? Of course not. But as designers, we often pretend like we have personally sourced every item and take credit for our team’s work. Most employees want to feel valued and like they are contributing in a meaningful way. I find that when I share the love and share the credit everyone is happier.

5. Underpaying and overworking

When I first started in the interior design industry I took a 75% pay cut because I loved the job so much. I ended up opening my own firm before I was properly ready because it was a struggle to pay my bills in San Francisco on my paltry salary. It’s no longer true that only the boss makes money in our industry.  When you have a steady stream of ideal clients and you charge them market rate, you can pay your team really well.  When your financials are in order, you can afford to hire for every role needed. (Don’t do what I did back in the day and hire a designer to answer the phone, walk your dog, clean your car and the office, create invoices, and meet with clients!)  When you trust your team, they can work from home, take time off, and generally have a life outside of work without your business falling apart.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to hire people, pay them well, and trust them to care for our business.  I invite you to stop doing even one of these things and let me know how it goes. And if you know any talented interior designers who are overworked and underpaid, send them my way because we are hiring!


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