Readers send in challenging situations, reminding me how tough the business environment can be. And there is always more than one way to see a situation, with both employee and management having a legitimate point of view. Most weeks, it seems fairly straightforward to manage these perspectives when addressing readers' questions. However, sometimes, like last week, walking that line is more difficult.
A reader brought that home with the following comment:
"Your asking the employee to see if there is anything wrong with his behavior when he left work to be with his wife during emergency surgery was over the top. Since when are we slaves in this country? I work in a [organization]. One of the managers brags to her employees that she didn't take one sick day while [dealing with an extremely serious family medical situation]. This monster was promoted to oversee six units. What is wrong with our society when work has been elevated to this extreme? Your advice to look at his behavior just perpetuates this sick system."
Yeah. Even while I was writing the column, I had in mind the follow-up question. What if there are no extenuating circumstances? What if the manager just has warped priorities? So, here's what I'd say to that.
Imagine that you're the employee in that situation. You have an ill family member and meet with utter lack of support. For most of us, quitting as a matter of principle without a job waiting isn't a wise choice. Especially not if you need to provide financially for your family. Taking the measured approach I suggested can help you buy time. You can have the chance to work through whether you can tolerate working for someone like this, and figure out what to do if you can't. It puts you in control of your own situation to a much greater extent than if you react hastily.
There was another reason for my suggestions. People can be very afraid to confront others. Sometimes taking a more mild approach makes it possible to say something (instead of nothing). For some people, this will be an option that allows them to open their mouth and express themselves. For those who may be more comfortable with conflict, it'll be way too soft an approach. As always, every individual has to find their own path.
If you're a manager who may have seen yourself in this tough, get-it-done-style boss, think hard about what message you're sending. Is the work your business does really more important than life-or-death issues? Do you want a loyal employee who will never forget your support during a personal crisis or one filled with (justifiable) resentment? I'd argue that any cost you have for short-term tolerance will be far outweighed by the business value of a committed team member. It's not too late to change ... or to apologize.
And how about the tone of this comment? The reader clearly and strongly disagreed with me, but did so with civility. To me, this comment models the way to improve communication through disagreement, leading to more insight for all. Keep comments like this coming.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com or 651-398-4765. Questions also can be submitted at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner.