Everybody has a story, maybe more than one, impacting your work life. A few years back while attending the SHRM National Conference in Orlando, Heather Abbott, a Boston Marathon bombing victim, gave a rousing 10-minute introduction to the conference. An HR executive whose life was dramatically altered after losing a leg in the tragic event. She has recovered, moved on, and inspires others to prove that we all have the ability to overcome even the most unthinkable of life-changing moments. She even has a foundation and helps others.
That one presentation, more than any other over all my years at conferences, has stuck with me to this day.
Many people live with difficult challenges and go to work every day without any of us knowing. They might not have as powerful or touching of a story as Heather’s, but they are important. In my last corporate gig, I repeatedly discussed this with the head of my Talent team. You might interview someone for skill and attitude, oh and even “fit”, without knowing their story. I have had many of these conversations over the years. As you ponder this, you might say it should have no impact on the hiring process, and thankfully most times it does not; however, once someone does come aboard, it most definitely impacts performance. Since these “stories” are typically private in nature, they often stay buried. When someone on your team is having a bad day, is it because of work or because of life? We may never really know. We all walk a delicate balance between being concerned and being nosy.
Then the issues start–your employee needs time off or seems distracted. Supervisors who are unaware of the cause count it as a performance issue. And maybe it is…but where is the humanity in this situation?
My older brother passed away over a decade ago. He had lung cancer. From diagnosis to his final days, the span of this disease amounted to little more than eight months. He was a fighter and tried to work in between treatments, even when he was well into the later months. In retrospect, one might question why. And to be honest, he may not have been the best employee, but he had a level of dedication and respect for his profession that he tried to give until the very end. At his eulogy, I never talked about his daytime work, it was all about his volunteer time as an EMT on rescue squads, swim coach and referee, and his family and loved ones. Food for thought about what is most important.
Sometimes we take work just a little too seriously.
My brother’s situation was visible, most are not. It is an extreme story too, much like Heather’s, but your employees are dealing with a myriad of issues every day. Most under the iceberg. Some might be trivial, and others more significant, sometimes impacting performance on a short-term or ongoing basis. These stories could include family members with challenges or health issues, or single parents trying to do the work of two. You get the picture.
As business leaders, we need to remember our human assets are just that, not machines. Sometimes the stats and numbers we spend our careers focusing on are not the most important measurements–our compassion and understanding are. Our employees are not robots, and they come with imperfections, shortcomings, and yes, STORIES. We need to be compassionate and figure out how to make it work.
We need to find ways to be supportive, positive, and available when these stories surface, and when individuals are struggling as a result of their situations. In most cases, being supportive doesn’t cost more than a little TLC, and rarely gets in the way of being productive. A kind word, a smile, or just being reasonable or flexible can make a huge difference. We are approaching six years since the Boston Marathon bombing, and just over ten since my brother’s passing. These things tend to fade with time as most things do, but not completely.
Everyone has a story, including yours truly. I will leave mine for another day (or maybe I just shared it).
Let’s put the HUMAN back in our workplaces. There is no measurement or trophy for being a mensch, just another person’s gratitude for caring.