Let the Healing Begin

Rejoicing in life

It was a great evening.  Good friends.  Good food.  Many laughs.  Larry, whose story you can read here, was having dinner with Sam to get his ideas on getting back into the workforce.  Larry had retired from his job at the mutual workplace that he and Sam had worked, but in truth, he was forced to retire by a management intent on wearing him down so he would leave.  That was over six months ago, so Sam was happy that Larry wanted to talk.

Over dinner, the conversation naturally drifted towards their prior, shared workplace, with stories being swapped, and gaps filled in from different points of view.  Larry was ready to jump back into the workforce, but hadn’t prepared a resume for many years.  That was where Sam came in.  He had gained a reputation among his former co-workers as a good resume doctor, so Larry sought him out.

“I don’t know why it took me so long to jump back in the job hunt”, Larry admitted.  It was over six months ago that he retired, and he was not the type of guy who would just want to sit and take it easy for the rest of his life.  Sam smiled.  He knew exactly why Larry had taken so long.  He needed to heal.

If we are fortunate in our work lives, we have workplaces that we cannot wait to get to each morning.  They nurture us, uplift us, and give us the ability to grow as a person and in a community.  Those places have low turnover and are the places where you have to ‘know someone’ to get hired into.

If we are less fortunate in our work lives, we go to workplaces that are simply workplaces.  You put in your time each day, do your work, and clock out.  They are not very uplifting, but they are also not damaging.  They are simply places you spend eight hours or more doing your work so you can get to the people and things you enjoy.

If we are unfortunate in our work lives, we work for those places which are designed to damage our hearts and souls.  We have managers who believe only by degrading you can they raise themselves up.  They believe that the only way they can show that they are truly in power is to make your life miserable.  An insult or slight is always on their lips, and the only words they know about your performance is ‘never good enough’.

They seem to enjoy inflicting pain and look for new ways to do it.  They are always the victim, and you are always the aggressor, though the truth is just the opposite.  Nobody is happy under them, yet in too many cases they stay in power.

When you finally escape that workplace, you think you can just go on with you life.  Sadly, you have to, but you can’t just walk away like nothing happened.  Those workplaces affect both your heart and soul.  They leave scars and injuries.  Those scars take time to heal.  You may not want to admit it, give into it, or think it is silly to think that way, but that doesn’t change what has happened to you.  It also doesn’t change that you need to heal.  Hopefully where you have gone to upon fleeing that workplace is one which allows you to heal and see the true worth that you have.

Larry took this all in and had to agree with Sam, though he did have one question.  How did Sam know this?  Easy, Sam replied, he left the organization later than Larry did.  Guess who was still in the process of healing?

 

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You’re Sick? You’re Fired!

Sick person

It had been particularly stressful around the office for Ralph.  It was obvious in word and deed that his management wanted him out of there, and was making sure they had enough ‘documentation’ in order to get rid of him when the time was right.  He had been demeaned, harassed, and bullied by his management, and the management level above that supported it outright.  It would teach him to believe them when they said he could go talk to them about anything.

The added piece to this was that Ralph had a diagnosed, chronic condition that was aggravated by the stress he was encountering.  He was experiencing flare-ups of this condition that were debilitating him to the point where his health was truly suffering because of it.  He needed to take some action, but sadly hadn’t learned his lesson.

One day, he walked into his boss’ office to let her know he was about to file papers to take some short term leave to get this chronic condition sorted out.  He did this as a courtesy to her, as others would have come in, dropped the papers, and walked out.  His boss’ (and the boss’ boss) action to this announcement?  Within an hour, they had drawn up the papers to have him fired.  Two hours later he was no longer an employee of the company.  They would not be denied their revenge at having him fired for actually being honest with them.

The machinery soon went into high gear.  The department head brought everyone in to her office to announce this and assure everyone that they were all valued employees…which none of them believed.

She told them they could come to her with any issue and it would be listened to…which none of them believed.

When Ralph’s departure was to be communicated to the corporate communication group for a routine announcement in the next newsletter, the announcement was blocked by the boss’ boss.  He didn’t want anyone to know of his actions.  Yet, within two hours, the news had spread throughout the company by the oldest form of communication available…word of mouth.  His department, already suffering in the eyes of the employee, suffered more by the firing and by the covert nature of the operation.

Ralph’s co-workers were brought in to be told of the extra work they would have to do, but that they were valued…which none of them believed.

What this one act, the firing of a good employee who happened to be ill, did, was to increase suspicion of the department and their leadership from within and without.  It also drove any employee conversations and action further underground for fear that anything they say will be taken as a fireable offense.   The department, already dysfunctional, became even more dysfunctional by this action.

The department management got what they wanted — revenge upon an employee they did not like.  What they did was show just how truly sick the whole management structure was.

Good Advice…for Everyone Else

Hypocrite

There was a hard and fast rule in Sarah’s mind for any event that her group hosted.  If there were prizes raffled off, her staff could not enter the drawings.  It was a reasonable demand from her, the staff admitted.  What happened if a member of Sarah’s staff won one of the really good prizes?  Even if an auditing agency had presided over the drawing and signed affidvits testifying to the validity of the drawing, someone might believe that there was something crooked in the drawing and the department’s reputation could be damaged.  So, even though some of the prizes were quite good, the staff members never entered any contest in which they were involved.

Then the naming contest came about.  It seems that a room dedicated to the use of one of Sarah’s departments was built, alleviating the need for that department to beg, borrow, or steal a room from another group, or hope that a public room was available.  As the room was being finished, it was decided that a contest would be held to name the room.   Like the other contests, staff members of the company could enter their suggestion and an impartial panel would choose the best answer, giving the room a name.  The contest was announced, a special mailbox was set up to gather the entries, and staff was invited to send in their entries.

Looking through the entries, one name stood out.  Sarah had put in an entry.  A delicate inquiry was made to her regarding if this could be seen as suspect by the staff for the same reasons she gave for staff not being able to enter any of the department’s other contests.  Sarah answered that this case was totally different and there was no conflict of interest in her entering it.  If her suggestion happened to win, well, then so be it.  Nobody could think any worse of the department because of it.  Why?  Because, Sarah said so.

Guess who won?  Now, to be fair in reporting, the committee that chose the winner had only one departmental representative on it, so there wasn’t an undue influence by Sarah on the choice.  However, that wasn’t the point.  Sarah made sure that a plaque announcing the winner was placed in the room, so her name would now live in perpetuity, or at least as long as the room lasted.  It served another purpose, too.  The plaque served as a reminder that, if it benefited Sarah, the rules for everyone else didn’t have to apply to her.  They had seen it many times before,  and, thanks to the plaque, would be reminded of it many times in the future.

There is hardly a more important rubric when leading or managing people than to make sure that the rules you create for them apply to you as well.  When you begin to apply the rules only to some and exclude yourself, you set yourself apart.  When you serve up excuses why ‘this time’ is different so you can enjoy some benefit, you set yourself apart.  When the only time the rules are bent is when you want them to be, you set yourself apart.   By setting yourself apart, you negate any feeling that there is a team effort in the department.  The only team are the horses up front pulling your carriage while you wave to the crowds.

The team won’t consider you one of the horses, though they will think of as another part of the horse.  I guarantee you wouldn’t want that put on a plaque.

Petty Purim Patronizing

PURIM_-580x222For those who might not know what Purim is, here’s a brief primer, courtesy of chabad.org:

The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed, and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made.

Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G‑d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

On the 13th of Adar, the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar, they rested and celebrated.

Rebekah and her co-workers were discussing various holidays, when Rebekah mentioned Purim.  Some of her co-workers were not familiar with this holiday and why it was important to the Jewish faith.   As she was explaining this, Rebekah’s manager chimed in with an explanation of her own.   “Purim?  That’s just a Jewish Halloween”.  The room fell silent in digesting that particular comment, and those who were happily enjoying some employee bonding just a minute or so ago now went sullenly to their desks.

You may say that Rebekah should have gone to Employee Relations at this instance.  Rebekah considered this, but knew her company’s Employee Relations department was nothing more than a defense department for managers.  That being the case, Rebekah knew that the only person punished would be her when her manager found out she had been reported.  She remained silent, not out of understanding that the manager would never change, but knowing things would never change, especially her manager.

As Rebekah went back to her desk, she wondered what kind of progress had been made in the past 40 years.  A manager, in this day and age, making a comment as bigoted as this.  It simply boggled her mind.  And to know, because the company motto was managers first, last, and always, that nothing would be done save for getting her punished, was equally as galling.  If one manager could say this, what were other equally offensive things were other managers saying, and getting away with?

As she sat at her desk, she wondered whether she should plot her own personal exodus from the company.

The Conversation, Part 1

It wasn’t anything special, just the one on one that Henry had with his manager, Violet, every week.  It was a good chance for them to catch up on what had transpired over the past week, and although Henry sat near Violet’s office, this meeting offered  a chance for more in-depth discussion, prompting questions and insights.  Little did Henry know how much insight he would gather from this conversation.

A little history.  Henry had started a discussion with Violet the prior week about taking advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement benefit for getting a masters degree.  It would be his second, though the first was earned while he was at a prior company, so no money had been paid out by his present company.  They gained the benefit of his knowledge.  Henry had spoken with the manager of the benefits department, who assured him that it was allowed for someone to earn a masters degree and be reimbursed for it, even though the person already had a masters degree.

Henry also knew it might be a rough road.  He knew that Violet would be fully supportive of him, but it also had to be approved by the department head, Lillian.  Simply put, Lillian didn’t like Henry, and had done everything in her power to keep him down in his spot.  It was to the point where Henry was searching for a new opportunity, but while he was there, he would take advantage of the benefits of the company.  Getting Lillian’s approval would be much more difficult.

It shouldn’t be, Henry thought.  The tuition reimbursement was taken out of a general fund supplied by the company, not Lillian’s budget directly.  The degree he wanted to pursue would add value to the department and was directly related to his job.  None of that mattered.  Lillian had veto power, and that worried Henry.

Halfway into the update, Violet let Henry know the status of his request.  She had spoken with Lillian, and, not surprisingly, Lillian had thrown up roadblocks.  Didn’t Henry already have a masters degree?  Why would he want a second one?  Violet related that she had explained this was something that would add value to the job and department, but Lillian remained unimpressed.  Lillian ended the conversation with the sentence, “I’ll have to check to see if we have it in the budget”.   Even Violet mentioned that this was odd for her to say, as it wasn’t being taken out of the department’s budget.  As a matter of fact, in Henry’s discussions with the manager of benefits, he found out that the fund was never fully tapped, and gave back thousands of dollars each year to the general company fund because it went unused.  Still, Lillian indicated she would have to check the budget.

Henry sighed, not surprised.  Throughout his time under Lillian he had to go around so many roadblocks he could be classified as a GPS.

There are times when, as a manager, you should stop and ask whose best interests are you serving?  The company’s, or your own?  Are your personal feelings or opinions interfering with something that will ultimately benefit your employees, your department, or your company?  Do you find yourself having to invent justifications for avoiding what is best for the general welfare to validate your emotions?   What is more important to you…being a good steward of the company, or showing you are the boss and that your will must not be defied?

If you find yourself having to do mental contortions simply to justify your opinion, that is probably a sign that you need to straighten out your thinking.  When you do, the ‘Henrys’ in your organization will suddenly cease to be a ‘problem’ and begin being an asset.

Henry’s conversation wasn’t quite done.  In the next blog, you’ll see how Lillian’s opinion didn’t stop at education.

The Pink Tie Matter

In The Crowning Glory, we discussed the concept of employee privacy and how one leader in a department decided to approve an idea of discarding employee privacy for a few laughs.  The prize for the ‘best’ story would be a crown.  This particular choice of prize brought up another interesting issue, one that had been around under this leader for years.

It was a department of around 20 people.  Of those 20 people, 16 were female, 4 were male.  Of those 4 men, only 2 of them were permanent employees — Vernon and Mitch.  The other two males, a temp and an intern, would soon be gone.  Vernon and Mitch were used to this.  Mitch had been the last male hired in the department, and all subsequent hires had been female, with all but one of the hiring managers being female.  They never saw anything wrong with this, though Vernon and Mitch shared the thought that, if males had tried this, there would have been many complaints of sexism in the hiring process.

Over the years, the unit leader had often mocked Mitch and Vernon, making uncomfortable comments about them, passing it off as a joke.  This particular situation was typical of most.  At the beginning of the meeting, the unit leader, Serena, decided she had to make a comment about the pink tie that Vernon was wearing.  She mentioned that how ‘unVernon’ it was and how it was probably his wife that had picked it out.  She had commented many times regarding the clothes that Vernon especially had worn, but nothing ever mentioned about the dress of any of the female employees.  All the females laughed at this.

Later on, when the crown had been decided as the prize for the ‘best’ story, Vernon and Mitch looked at each other.  Serena, having seen this, asked inquisitively, was there a problem with this?  As usual, Mitch and Vernon said nothing, knowing it would not change anything in Serena’s mind, save for branding Vernon and Mitch as never wanting to have any fun.

Later on, walking back from the meeting, another female manager said with a smile, “I look forward to seeing the crown on one of your heads!”  Vernon and Mitch smiled, with Mitch making a comment to Vernon that the female manager could go do something anatomically impossible.

Years ago, I worked in a building that was very old.  So old, as a matter of fact, that they only had men’s rooms on each floor, as women were not expected to be in the workforce.  It was a very pointed reminder of how the workforce has changed, and changed for the better.  Diverse views and different perspectives help enrich the workforce experience, allowing new ideas to flourish.

Yes, many things have changed, but one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed, at least with some managers, is inappropriate behavior towards the opposite sex.  Years ago, it was women’s complaints against their male bosses.  Today it still is true that some male bosses act in inappropriate fashion, with the mayor of San Diego is a prime example.  However, we can now add in women bosses and their inappropriate comments and actions towards their male employees.  No matter the sex, it is laughed off and dismissed by the superior.  What makes it ironic is that women fought so long to be treated as equals, and now a minority of them are acting the way their foremothers fought so hard to correct.

No matter which side of the gender divide they happen to fall on, a good manager knows what to say and what not to say.  Yes, there are cases where something they may utter is misconstrued or should not have been said.  At those points, a good manager knows when to own up to those comments and apologize.   By repeatedly singling out someone of the opposite sex, and a minority in the department as well, managers open themselves up to disrespect, accusations, and possibly even lawsuits.  Sensitivity training is not a male or female issue, it is a manager and employee issue.  Stories like the one related show that it is still in sore need today.

Let’s elevate the workplace humor to more mundane topics and get it out of the clique mentality.  Male or female, it is simply good business.

The Blind Spot: A Sarah Story

Sarah sat with her team at their monthly meeting.  It was pretty routine.  Each group would provide their important updates, and aside from the fact that some of her managers considered highly routine things important, the meeting was going along smoothly.   When it was the head of the training area’s turn, she had mentioned that a particular class she was going to teach might have to be postponed because of a scheduling conflict.  Sarah immediately responded that whatever the head of training needed to do, but that Arlene could also teach the class.  Who’s Arlene?  She is a temporary worker who is doing some fill in teaching because the department is short staffed.

It’s not that the training department doesn’t have staff.  They do.  There is the head of the training department, but there also is Charlie, who is a full time employee within the department, having a longer tenure there than even the training manager.  You may recall Charlie and Sarah from some previous blogs, one of which you can read right here.

Charlie was at this staff meeting, sitting in plain view of Sarah.  So, when Sarah made the comment about a substitute instructor teaching the class, it was what Sarah didn’t say that struck Charlie.  Sarah pointedly made sure to say that Arlene could teach the class, deliberately excluding Charlie.

This wasn’t a big surprise to Charlie.  If you read the blog in the above link, and the link in that blog as well, you would see that 1.  Charlie and Sarah have had a rocky relationship and 2. Once Sarah has made up her mind about something or someone, neither heaven or earth will be able to change it.  It had been years since Sarah said to Charlie, “I don’t think you can manage anything”, and despite the fact that he not only taught management classes to good reviews, and had developed an entire management series that won praises from Sarah, Sarah would not change her opinion, as it might mean that she was wrong in the first place.  That would never do.  So, Sarah would rather recommend a temp who had no management experience whatsoever over her own team member who had managed staff, taught management classes, and been a liaison to management for many years before joining Sarah’s team.

From managers to teachers to spouses, the advice from experts remains the same.  Saying you are wrong does not pose a sign of weakness, it is a show of strength.  From managers to teachers to spouses, the advice from experts remains the same.  You must constantly reevaluate your position, your thoughts, your views, as things change so rapidly in the world and with people that opinions become outdated quickly.    Those who do not keep up are in danger of being left behind.

How big is your blind spot?  How calcified are your opinions?  How rooted are you in your own ego that you refuse to see the truth around you and instead cling to outdated notions and medieval opinions?

In this case, maybe Sarah needed to take those management courses being taught by her department head…or Arlene.  Maybe, just maybe, she would learn something.