It could best be described as an open secret. During Sylvia’s first year with the company, she took more than her share of the company’s ‘medical time’ because of her child. Now, when I say she took more of her share of medical time, that is a literal statement. She took more than her share of the company’s medical time.
The medical time concept was pretty unique for companies. It allowed you to take hours or a day to be used for things such as doctor’s visits, taking relatives to the doctors, or preventative exams. Of course, it could also be used as genuine sick time, but it was very flexible. This was a good thing for Sylvia. Having had to come back to work shortly after her child was born, she needed to place him in daycare. Daycare being daycare, the boy got more than his share of colds and other germs. Sylvia would often get a call that her child needed to be taken home from daycare because of some illness or other.
To accommodate this, Sylvia would user her medical leave time. After all, that is what it was there for, wasn’t it? However, as the year progressed, more and more people noticed that she had reached and even exceeded her limit of medical leave time allowed for an average employee. It was a running joke that she was on her 18th day of her 12 day allotment. Nobody brought this up because they realized she was not taking it frivolously, but rather so she could help her child during a very rough first year.
Chief among the defenders of Sylvia was Marvin, one of her employees. While not a parent himself, he saw the need for Sylvia to be with her sick child, and often held down the department while Sylvia had to leave. He never complained about this, and never mentioned that she had well surpassed her medical leave days by the middle of the year.
I mentioned that Marvin was not a parent. This is strictly true, but for anyone who knew Marvin, his dogs were his children. While he tried to not go overboard and become ‘one of those dog people’, his colleagues knew how devoted he was to the three dogs that shared his life. It would have surprised no one to know that when one of the dogs was diagnosed with a possible cancer, Marvin would do what he needed to help his ‘child’.
To that end, he talked with Sylvia and indicated he would like to take some medical leave when he had to take his dog to possible cancer treatments. Sylvia, being the fair and compassionate manager she was, told him absolutely not. Medical leave was to be used strictly for humans and not for dogs, so Marvin could not use it. Rules had to be followed, after all.
Marvin’s world, and his opinion of Sylvia, changed in that instant. Sylvia wanted to play by the rules, then play by the rules they would. While he could not begin counting Sylvia’s multiple days off during her first year and still hope to keep his job, he could follow Sylvia’s lead. The rules stated he did not have to tell her the reason for taking one medical leave day, so he didn’t. She had destroyed the open relationship he had tried to cultivate. So, if there was a vet visit, he had a medical leave day, and nobody was allowed to ask why. When someone in the department would ask, he would smile politely and say it was a private matter.
In the past, Marvin would drag himself in on a day he wasn’t feeling well. Now, he began using his sick time. Again, using one or two was a private matter, with three being the magic number for a doctor’s note. Marvin was never sick more than two days. He worked his hours, and that was it. He took his vacation days, where previously he would give some back to the company. In other words, he became a conspicuous rule follower, using the rules to his own benefit.
In other words, in the 5 seconds Sylvia indicated that while she could bend the rules with wild abandon and Marvin couldn’t, she lost a good employee and gained a rule follower and a clock watcher. Five seconds to destroy trust and turn an employee from engaged to disengaged. It might have been a world record.
There is an old saying that rules are meant to be broken. While that may be a bit extreme, in certain circumstances, they can be bent. A compassionate workplace is one that recognizes this and allows bending of the rules. It is part of what makes a workplace more than just a workplace, but a location where people may not enjoy going, but certainly don’t mind. That compassion has to be spread equally around, and not reserved for just a privileged few.
When someone who has seen the rules bent for them suddenly decides that the rules must be strictly adhered to by someone else, the spell is broken. If it is a manager who does this to an employee, the damage they have caused can be irreparable. Why? Because, the manager is creating a two tiered system. They can flout rules when it is of benefit to them, but will apply them strictly when they gain no benefit from it…except for the good will of their employee.
How much is that good will worth? How much in extra hours worked, extra effort employed, and going the extra mile? How much long term benefit can bending a rule for someone else in the short term create? How much damage do you cause when your compassion stops at the tip of your nose. You may have kept the rules, but lost a good employee. How much have you lost in the long term?
A good manager is one who is compassionate. He or she knows that by showing compassion, they will get it back, and in most instances, get it back multi-fold. They look past their own self-interest to see the wider world and the bigger picture.
For those that can’t, they lose more than they can ever imagine, if they could imagine past their own viewpoint.