Sunday, September 5, 2010

Are You My Mother? No. Especially Not at Work.

Everywhere I've worked, the employee lunchroom always has some version of this sign posted:

Your Mother Doesn't Work Here:  Clean Up Your Own Mess.

A variation of the theme of "Don't Mess Your Nest."

Both concepts are related and should be taken to heart, mind and spirit.  It comes down to the hard work of self-awareness and its resultant emotional intelligence / maturity.  The implications of the unexamined life are not only sad; they are, more importantly, life- and career-changing, and more often than not, for the worst.

Cleaning up -- better yet, preventing -- your own mess within the context of the workplace is critical, particularly in an economy where it's a buyer's market for employers (customers).  If for no other reason, check your therapeutic baggage at the door of your workplace.  Think about examining your (inner) life to the extent that it saves you from jeopardizing your livelihood.  Wherever else that journey of self-examination takes you is up to you.

Taking responsibility for recognizing and keeping your therapeutic baggage in check at work is a key step towards ensuring your own vocational success.

As an HR practitioner, I see the lack of responsibility on the part of the employee (employees mean managers here too) play out again and again as the employee hits their bottom in a performance, disciplinary or termination discussion.  I've seen it happen at every level, from executives to warehouse clerks.  Their psychological baggage is so obvious to me that it's not only in the room, but all of their bags are open and the contents are strewn everywhere and hurtled at everyone.

For that employee, as a brief example, their manager is their abusive dad, I'm their detached mom / aunt and their co-workers are their trench-buddy siblings.

And when compounded by substance abuse and unresolved trauma:  I estimate at least half (probably more) of the employee relations issues that I have adjudicated in my career should have been handled through professional mental health treatment rather than the workplace disciplinary process.

If those same employees had taken the responsibility to drag their therapeutic baggage to a therapist rather than to work, we could have taken that time and energy wasted in resolving those employee relations issues and applied it to more productive endeavors such as new product, process and customer development, as well as resultant profit-sharing.

The time to raise your hand for help is not at your termination discussion.  If your employer offers help in the form of employee assistance programs (EAP) and/or mental health benefits, ask for and accept the help before you begin sliding down the slippery slope of the disciplinary / termination process.

One employee who will always have a place in my heart asked for the help before he jeopardized his employment, while he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. His courage inspired us all.  We were all committed to his treatment, and he not only became a stellar employee, he was also subsequently promoted.

That, in my book, is how you engender mutual loyalty and respect in the workplace.

Now I'm not a therapist, nor do I aspire to that vocation,  and I don't weave anything remotely therapeutic into my HR practice:  I'm clear about both my boundaries and my limitations, personally, professionally and legally.  However, I will reflect back when an employee has dug themselves into such a hole of hitting bottom at work that perhaps they should consider working it out with a therapist, mentor, spiritual counselor -- whatever will get them through the night of their unexamined internal wound(s).

The workplace is not parental, or familial:   it is a place of business, and the interaction of the employer with their employees is a business transaction.  Plain and simple.  Services are sold by one party (the employee) and purchased by the other party (the employer).  The extent to which that business transaction is conducted creatively, collaboratively and functionally separates tolerable workplaces from great workplaces.  And tolerable employees from great employees / contributors / partners.

Leave your baggage at your workplace door:  solutions sell.


  1. Deb, I am currently pursuing my Masters in Hospitality Administration at UNLV through an online program and have a class right now in HR Management. Your blog arrived at just the right moment and I have shared it with my classmates. Every word is so appropo to my current status at work as "mom" of some staff. I can see how my behavior has enabled it. On another note, if you have any ideas of and HR Management topic that I could pursue for my final academic paper, I would greatly appreciate it! Gina M.

  2. Open-Book Management: Drives Employee Engagement and the Bottom Line. I love what Jack Stack has written on the topic: