In over twenty-five years of working in the corporate world, I have only called out sick two or three times. Early in my career in managing people, I would often comment on why the same people were always on the verge of being placed on corrective action for tardiness or illness. Each time someone called out, I had a cynical response assuming that there was some lack of truth behind why they called out.
I only thought in terms of what stage of life I was in at the time. Prior to being married and having kids, I didn’t understand why people couldn’t make arrangements to have someone else watch their children. When I got married, I was lucky enough to have a wife who stayed home and dedicated herself to raising our family. Why couldn’t their spouse take care of their children? I still had a one-sided view. When my kids were born, I was back to work in a week while other fathers were looking for twelve weeks. When I worked forty-five hours, fifty hours, and sixty hours per week, I didn’t understand why people couldn’t commit themselves to those same hours. I didn’t get it. I lacked the compassion and understanding of what others might be going through.
As part of my progress towards transformation, I began to have ‘personal’ meetings with my managers. I would periodically set up time and just talk about their families, interests, and hobbies. During these meetings, although it started off very hard for me, I refused to discuss business. I began to learn what motivated people and made them tick. I began to understand the passion people had for things outside of work. At the time, my passion was work. My passion, loyalty, and commitment to my company was the same passion, loyalty, and commitment many people had for their families, hobbies, and other things outside of work. I was beginning to understand.
I ran into someone I used to work with about five years earlier. He had moved to another state. He was still with the company and was visiting our office. We talked about the years when we had put in mind-numbing hours of overtime. I asked him if anyone even remembered that we had put in those hours. We both laughed because we knew the answer was no, and realized that much of it at the time was for non-productive show. The funny thing was that many of the leaders we were so emphatic about impressing were no longer even with the company. What we did remember was the fun we had, the people we touched, and the relationships we built—in simple terms, the things we should care about. When compassion is clear, the job will find a way to get done.
I think it sunk in when I sent an email to one of my direct reports. She was not in the office when one of her people called in sick, so I took the call. My previous cynical side of me would have questioned it. After I hung up, in the past, I’m sure I would have made up in my head the “real” story about why she had called out. Instead, I sent a short and simple email to her manager that read, “Penny’s horse died. I finally understand.”
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
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