Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series highlighting opportunities that managers have missed to help an employee who was reaching out to them with a problem.
It had been a rough year for Max. Not only had he been working at his own job, he was expected, without compensation, to run the department while his boss, Sarah, searched for a new manager. Max had applied for the position, but had been told in very specific terms that he was good enough for the interim, but he would not be considered for the post permanently. He would be rated on how he kept the department running, but Sarah would not be giving him any compensation or bonus for keeping the department running while Sarah found her next direct report. Max half expected Sarah to either fire him when the search was done, or have as an unspoken requirement that the new manager fire Max, as Sarah did not get along with him.
The new manager had been found, and Sarah, believing that it would be a good opportunity for everyone to get to know the new manager, held a small teambuilder. Max, along with his other co-workers, dutifully attended.
In one of the exercises, the leader of the teambuilder had certain areas marked out. Each held an adjective to describe how they were feeling at the moment…energized, ready, tired, etc. Max went over to the area entitled tired, and found himself standing next to Sarah and his new manager, who was in a ‘topic box’ next to him. The teambuilding leader then asked people to explain to either someone else in that area, or someone in an adjacent area, to explain why they were in that particular area.
Sarah and the manager went first, explaining why they felt energized, the area that they had stood in. Then Max’s new manager asked him why he was in the box he was. Max explained he was feeling burned out. It had been a tough year, filled with lots of challenges, and if he were going to be honest, he felt tired. The new manager listed with concern and let Max know that she believed in him and that she looked forward to working with him. Sarah then spoke up, saying one sentence. “If you feel you are that tired, why don’t you just quit?” Max and his new manager treated that remark with silence.
A manager, or a leader, has a primary duty to their people. Above all, they are there to support their people, to help them, to guide them, and to coach them. True, in some cases, it isn’t possible. The person may be a poor performer, refuse the help, or try as they might, not be able to do the job. These realizations come after the leader has tried everything with the employee to get them to their potential.
If the only answer you give is, “Why don’t you leave so you are not my problem anymore”, or words to that effect, then you are not a leader. You are indicating that you only want the easy and not the tough work. In the case above, where Sarah was directly responsible for the extra workload she gave Max, and gave no thanks or reward to him for carrying an extra burden for a long time, the response she gave is petty and spiteful.
Looking at it another way, what does the new manager think when her boss, the leader of this group, is so flagrantly dismissing an employee’s concerns by suggesting he go become unemployed. Is this an organization that she would want to work in?
Is it one you would?