Concurrently Published on LinkedIn.
Employers and managers must never assume ‘leadership’ comes with position. Good leaders are trained, tracked, guided, and given the tools to succeed – and help their teams succeed. When they aren’t the human toll can be palpable.
I recently talked with a gray collar worker fresh out of a difficult pickle.
Janet was underemployed having accepted a short-term position, but her obstacles to happiness extended way beyond the fixed term and low pay of the post.
Initially, an HR rep that knew Janet from outside the company, had stroked her ego. (With 20/20 hindsight we suspect a successful attempt to recruit her to a position where no rational/self-respecting person could succeed). The job required a high level of attention to detail and was typically hard to fill. The team from a previous season wasn’t being invited back. Janet was told she was a perfect fit.
Hired for full-time, she was scheduled fewer than 30 scattered across over five days weekly.
Hired as part of a team, Janet alone had survived beyond orientation and the workload she described sounded ridiculous. She didn’t have the tools or technology to perform the work efficiently. There were no defined processes.
Environmental conditions sounded abysmal; an office she described as claustrophobic, moldy and stale with a prevailing climate of foul smells outside the door – in fact Janet told me she’d been sick with some vague respiratory ailment since starting the job.
All told, I understood this much of her dilemma: It sounded like a poorly run company with lousy working conditions, and a failing management structure.
But there was more.
Wanting to make it work, even for the short term, or else be forced to end her employment early, she’d gone to her supervisor.
“You want to quit,” Janet’s boss accurately assessed before the conversation had really begun, adding, “I want to quit too.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Janet told me. “I was desperate for something, anything. Guidance. She gave me nothing.
She told me the company knew about the problems and refused to do anything about it and she’d been asking for years.”
In fact, Janet’s boss had increased the burden.
Over the next several weeks, her supervisor treated her as a kindred spirit – someone similarly disenchanted with this employer and seldom missed a chance to badmouth management or unload her own frustration.
Janet had the tables turned on her.
From frustrated new-hire, she’d been promoted to unpaid therapist.
Barely five weeks in, the bumbling human resources director got wind of Janet’s dissatisfaction and she was let go on the spot.
“I’d offered to work two more weeks until they found someone else,” Janet said, adding, “They didn’t want me to finish the week or even the shift. I was shown the door. I thought I was going to throw up.”
Company policy, as it was explained to her, was to terminate immediately when an employee indicated a desire to quit.
With the expense of recruiting and hiring, this sort of shortsighted policy is probably foolish at best, but in Janet’s case it really was for the best.
What was best for Janet, that is.
She wasn’t there long enough to bother adding the temporary job to any online or paper resumes. The position was outside of her preferred career zone and clearly the company was undeserving of her talents.
In the days that followed the separation, she began to regain her health. Her confidence took a bit longer, and Janet is still looking for her next position.
We’ll grade Janet’s entire experience as a ‘fail.’
Out of the gate, she was dramatically overqualified for the work she hired on to do – that’s partly on her. Perhaps she should never have accepted the job.
Her supervisor failed to coach her toward success, if it was possible, and dragged her down sharing stories of dissatisfaction as an equal rather than a leader.
Human Resources failed to recruit and/or screen sufficient staff to get the job done and executed an inhumane separation.
Management failed to provide a suitable workplace, appropriate technology or sufficient training protocol.
That’s three strikes against the employer.
Fortunately for Janet, she’s the one who’s “out.”
We have no way to know if or how the work Janet was hired to do is getting done.
For her part, the experience left Janet with a new appreciation for how low she’s not willing to go. With a bit of savings to cushion her current unemployed status, we’re working to find her a more well-managed “new opportunity.”
But not everyone is as lucky as she, and sometimes any job seems better than no job at all – until you find yourself like Janet, with a respiratory infection and a paycheck that barely pays for your commute.