Privacy for Private Problems
You also need one-on-ones to manage private issues. The people in your organizations have families and private lives. They have spouses or significant others, children, parents, homes, pets, and other responsibilities outside of work. Sometimes they need time to manage their lives outside of work. I’ve learned of wonderful and tragic events in one-on-ones.
One woman told me she had an upset stomach for months. She’d gone to specialist after specialist over a period of a couple of months.
In our regular one-on-one, she told me she was taking the entire Friday off for a battery of tests to see what was wrong. She just couldn’t take it anymore and needed to get to the bottom of the problem. I wished her well, and told her the company and I were behind her.
She left me a voicemail on Friday night telling me she was six and a half months pregnant. Her husband left me a voicemail on Sunday night telling me she had delivered a daughter and that both the mom and daughter were fine. He sounded shell-shocked.
In another one-on-one, a developer told me he was taking off Tuesday and Thursday afternoons indefinitely. I asked if he could explain why. “No,” he said, as he started to cry. I pushed my tissues across the desk. “What are these for?” he asked.
“You are crying,” I explained.
“I am? No way.” He protested.
“Yes, you are. You might want to use a tissue. If you don’t want to tell me more, that’s OK. But I think there’s something serious going on in your life, and you might need more help than a box of tissues.
“We have an Employee Assistance Program that might help, even if you don’t want my help. I’ll leave for a few minutes if you like. You can compose yourself, and when I return, we can talk about it, or maybe you can go to HR, or you can go back to work.
“I can clear your Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for a couple of weeks. But sooner or later the team is going to wonder. I’m going to have to tell somebody something, so, I’d rather you tell me now and we can figure out what to say.”
I left for a few minutes. When I returned, he was back under control. His wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was going for chemo on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for six weeks and then they were going to see how the cancer was doing.
“I can work with this. We don’t have to touch your vacation or anything. We can make sure you are on full salary. I can make this work.”
“You can?” He sounded incredulous.
“Sure, this is why they pay me the Big Bucks.”
No one is going to tell you the big things in their lives in public. No one. The big things could be wonderful such as taking time off for a child’s prom. It could be supporting a spouse through cancer treatments. But everyone needs private time with a responsible manager.