An often overlooked requirement for managers

When I decided to become a business person and an entrepreneur, I thought predominantly about spreadsheets, finance, operations management, marketing, and making money.

I started my first job in management in 2011, and I finished my MBA in 2012. I opened my business in 2016. I own and operate a staffing and recruiting agency, which means the entire business is about people. 

So my world revolves predominantly around two themes: entrepreneurship and human resources. This article is predominantly for business leaders and HR leaders.

What I didn’t fully realize at first is just how important it is to be attentive to your employees’ trials. I am generally a more task-oriented person, and I love studying efficiency and managing my time in order to get things done. So stopping a moment to pay attention was often a challenge for me, while for others it may come as second nature.

I had always heard that you need to leave your personal life at home. And yes, employees should be professional at work and shouldn’t be standing by the water cooler gossiping about their neighbors. 

However, during my time in management, I have witnessed employees or colleagues who went through divorces, lost a loved one, been left by a spouse, or developed serious health issues. Some have endured terrible tragedies. 

Most of us have probably heard the saying: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Consider some of these statistics: 

  • About 65 million Americans are family caregivers for a sick or disabled relative.
  • About 40 million Americans have a disability of some kind.
  • Almost half of Americans have had a family member incarcerated at least one night.
  • About 8 million people will have a death in their immediate family this year.

These are tough challenges. We can add other challenges, such as financial difficulties. We could tally the millions of Americans who would struggle just to get to work if they have a small car problem. The list can go on and on. 

My main advice to a new manager would be to empathize with your employees. It’s certainly true that there are some who will take advantage of their managers’ flexibility, and some who will use every excuse possible to miss work or reduce their performance. Sadly, some people will lie to their managers about a tragedy. (I’ve had this happen to me also.) I’m not talking about lowering accountability. 

However, it is so important for those of us who tend to be task oriented to take time to be there for the employees, to write them a card or a note. It’s important for us to be there as fellow human beings. 

I remember one incident in which one of our temporary workers had just endured a tragedy. Another one of our colleagues didn’t hesitate to run to the store and get a card for each of us to sign and mail to that employee. I really appreciated her taking the initiative there. 

That’s an example of what I am talking about. Yes, I know there are always a lot of things to do and to get done. I understand that the business world moves quickly, and that clients expect speed and quality at all times. But if you’re in management or in HR, you need to make time to pay attention to when your colleagues and employees are going through a difficult situation.

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