Severing services


Breaking up is hard to do – even with your house cleaner. Shannon Stevens felt so bad about letting her cleaning lady go that she gave her more than a month’s notice and a Costco membership to alleviate the sting.

“That was a tremendously anxiety-producing event,” said Stevens, a University of Minnesota graduate student who’d had her house cleaned by the same person for a year. “To be personally involved in lessening someone’s income feels very sad to me.”

While people have always given the boot to hairstylists, nannies and other service providers because they were unhappy, Stevens had to sever the relationship to balance her budget. In an economy where people are cutting back on spending and doing more of the work themselves, financial practicality outweighs the risk of hurt feelings.

In fact, a quarter of respondents have left one or more personal service providers to save money, according to a recent BIGinsight poll conducted for USA Today. Slightly more than half now do the work themselves, while 26 percent found a cheaper service and 23 percent ended the service altogether.

A separate survey from America’s Research Group found that more than half of respondents who have cut back on spending have cut back on lawn services and are doing home repairs themselves instead of hiring a handyman. And nearly 20 percent said they now cut their kids’ hair; 15 percent are even cutting their own.

Whether the reasons are financial or about quality, ending those personal relationships isn’t easy.

Hairstylists are often known for providing “thairapy,” meaning people who stay with their stylists for years – women, in particular – share with them intimate details about their lives that not even their spouses or closest friends know. Housekeepers have the keys to their clients’ homes, touch their personal belongings and know their children’s names.

These relationships are more personal than the one with the person who changes your oil or dry cleans your clothes, so the idea of ending it can cause a person to ruminate for months.

“I think it might be easier to move out of town and make a fresh start somewhere else,” said Debbra Ford, a psychologist in Edina, Minn. Jokes aside, Ford said she’s feeling “wounded” after her hairstylist of 30 years recently retired. She has also had the same cleaning lady for 25 years, so she understands why ending personal service relationships can be difficult.

Stevens got to know her cleaning person and liked her. The two were friendly and traded tips on the local music scene. And even though her budget no longer allowed for cleaning services, Stevens also knew how much her cleaning lady needed the money.

“It’s less black and white than a normal employment situation,” she said. “I got the sense that she relied on that income. … That makes it more difficult to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Most people, however, end personal service relationships passively and just stop showing up.

“Hairstylists and trainers are easy to break up – just don’t go back,” Jennifer Healy of Minneapolis wrote on the Star Tribune’s Facebook page. “Housekeepers are harder because they have your keys. I told one I was going to clean the house myself and hired someone else two weeks later.”

There are all kinds of dos and don’ts for executing a romantic breakup, but the rules for handling the others in our lives are less clear. Most people take the easy way out and lie or leave by attrition.

“I don’t think there’s a very graceful way to exit assertively without hurting someone’s feelings,” said Pam Staples, an Excelsior, Minn.-based psychologist. “Not many people have that skill, and probably here in the Midwest, we have less of that skill with our ‘Minnesota nice.’”

Author Jodyne Speyer wrote a sort of manual to guide people through the awkward world of breaking up. “Dump ‘Em: How to Break Up With Anyone From Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser” offers advice on how to handle breakups with class, including with your lawyer, psychologist and dog walker.

Speyer’s No. 1 tip is warning the service provider that a breakup is imminent.

“Sometimes a relationship can be saved by telling the other person what the problem is,” she said. “What’s obvious to us might not be so obvious to them. So allowing them a chance to fix things just might fix the problem.”

When the problem is financial, be honest about that, too, Speyer said. The outcome might be surprising.

But ending a personal business relationship without any explanation can sometimes backfire and result in the awkward post-breakup stage. Minneapolis hairstylist Mark Efron said most clients who leave usually just stop showing up without any warning.

Efron, who’s owned Urban Hair Company in south Minneapolis since 1987, suspects that one of his longtime customers left on a whim recently after she received a service that Efron tried to dissuade her from in the first place. A few months later, he ran into her at a shoe store.

“I said, ‘Hi, how are you?’ but she looked down, embarrassed, then walked away,” he said. “I used to take those things very personally. I thought I was there for them and giving them what they needed, then poof, they’re gone. It leaves me wondering what I did or didn’t do.”

Instead, Efron and others in the service industry say they’d rather get an explanation for why the relationship is ending, even if it means hearing that they did something wrong.

“This industry is built on relationships, but if you’re not honest about your feelings, how will we know?” said Jackie Shoop, a salon manager and regional educator for Fantastic Sams. “The only thing worse than having someone break up with you is not knowing why.”

Leave your comments