Going Blind

As a child, I suffered an accident that left me blind in my right eye.  I was very young, so the I was unable to express that anything was different with my vision.

The disability was not identified until I was in third grade.  The school did the customary vision tests.  They thought I was faking because I said I couldn’t see anything on the right side when they covered by left eye.  I was sent to an optometrist who verified that I was telling the truth.

Fast forward to age 15, another optometrist identifies that I have a small congenital cataract on my left eye.  It has been growing slowly for 36 years now.

As an adult, I finally realized why sports were so difficult for me–no depth perception.  Can’t see how far away a baseball really is.  Can’t see how far away the basketball goal really is.  I’d spent junior high physical education going through humiliating exercises where I couldn’t go to the dressing room until I made a “basket”–I was always the last one in my class to do so.

I am lucky in that I have a world-renowned optometrist whom I stumbled upon in Kansas City before he became quite so famous.  You can’t get an appointment with him now unless you have an unusual and serious eye disease.  Someday, he will remove the cataract–a surgery that can go wrong and leave me completely blind.

As we age, we tend to lose peripheral vision, but mine has been deteriorating since I was in my 30’s.  At this point, I frequently walk into objects that I cannot see  in my periphery.  I have to increase the font on computer documents so I can identify the 0’s from the 8’s.

I have to consider how I will live my life if I end up blind.  I protect my left eye like the precious thing that it is.  It is hard to imagine what it may be like to never see the faces of my loved ones, never see sunsets, never drive, or be able to read again.

My disability is invisible–there is nothing that looks different about my right eye.   I try not to think about it or talk about it.  But, I sometimes wonder if tomorrow will be the morning that I wake up and the cataract has grown to the point that surgery is emergent.  And what will be the outcome of that surgery-plunged into darkness or restored visual clarity.

You Know Someone

Do you know five people?  Do you have five people who work for you?  Then you know someone who has mental health problems.

According to NAMI (NAMI.org), one in five adults faces mental health issues in any year in the United States.  Of those, 60% did not receive any sort of treatment.  These mental health issues can vary from depression to schizophrenia.

In 2001, a study published by the Harvard Health Publications found that 18% of individuals age 15-54 who were surveyed reported having a mental health issue in the last month (Mental health problems in the workplace).

What are our responsibilities, as employers, to these individuals?  Do we just look past it unless it effects performance?  Many managers and executives would say so.  Let me tell you what is wrong with that:  it is inhumane.

Did you know that people with long-term mental health issues die 25 years earlier than those without mental health issues (NAMI.org)?  That alone should be impetus enough for employers to take notice.  We could help our employees literally live longer.

I work in healthcare.  My first job was in a psychiatric hospital.  Working with children.  Let me  tell you, what some parents do to kids, it is no wonder that there are so many mental health issues.  Those kids grow up eventually and enter the workforce.

Healthcare has its own share of issues.  I think many people who are drawn to healthcare have mental health issues…or develop them while working in the field.  Why?  We see people die.  We see people who need treatment, but can’t get it because of insurance.  We see people diagnosed with incurable diseases.  We see people become not themselves.  People who are drawn to work in healthcare are “caring” people.  The negative outcomes for our patients take a toll.  Yes, babies are born and people are cured.  But, they are eclipsed by that first patient who died in pain while you held her hand.  Or the family that begged you to find a cure that wasn’t there.  Or the insurance company that denied coverage of treatment that was working.

What are we, as employers, to do to help?

  • Make sure your company has an Employee Assistance Program
  • Educate everyone, from CEO to janitor, on h ow the EAP works, so that any employee can help another
  • Ask questions when you see one of your employees struggling–or have their manager do it–just make someone does it
  • You don’t have to listen to the whole story or lose your boundaries–just say, “Hey, it looks like you are having a hard time.  Maybe the EAP could help you.  They have all kinds of help available.”  Then, give them a referral card
  • Talk about mental health issues at staff meetings–you don’t have to go into the warning signs of schizophrenia, but touch on things like dealing with stress, even if it is just a handout
  • Smile and make eye contact with people–haven’t you ever heard the story of the man whose suicide note said he was going to the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide, but he would not go through with it if someone smiled at him on the way (The New Yorker)?

It is everyone’s moral responsibility to help people who are struggling.  If you are an employer, you see your employees every day and you know when something is “off.”  Take time to ask.  You don’t have to play therapist.  But, you may be the only one who asks and the one who makes the difference between someone getting help and someone getting worse.



Creating Positions for Talented People

I’ve been part of several organizations who “create” new positions at the drop of a hat (some have been for me).  They want to reward loyal or talented employees, sometimes by inflating a job title to make it sound more important and other times to retain (or recapture) an employee.  Is there anything wrong with that?

When a new position is “created” the position needs to be advertised internally so that all qualified candidates have the opportunity to apply.   Failing to do so instills a feeling that there is no opportunity for advancement unless the “right” people notice one’s work.  And just because no one has noticed a person’s strengths and talents yet doesn’t mean they don’t exist–it just means the right circumstances have not presented themselves and/or the supervisor is disinterested, disengaged, or threatened by that individual’s talent.

“Creating” a new position for someone usually happens based on favoritism.  Someone in power and authority really likes the work of a subordinate and creates a new position in order to promote or raise his/her pay.  Many times, what is really happening in this situation is the failure of the person in power and authority to address the performance issue of someone else.  Rather than make room in the existing organizational structure for their high performer by removing an existing poor performer, they create a new position, leading to middle management spread.

A sense of instability can be sensed in organizations when “creating” positions happens too frequently.  Adding positions to organizational structures in an impulsive fashion leads to a feeling of not knowing what to expect.  One thing employees prefer is knowing what to expect, at least in general.

Creating new positions, no matter what the level of talent of an applicant or employee, is just bad human resources practice.  While I appreciate that businesses need to be fluid and seize/retain talent when it is available, organizations need to address the real performance issues while seeking out that talent that already exists in their organizations.  Doing otherwise just leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who are already part of the organization and drives talent out into the market to work for your competition.




Making a Murderer

I’ve just finished watching the Netflix docuseries “Making a Murder.”  Whether one believes Avery is guilty or not, the story is disturbing.

There has been an outpouring of comments (and support for Steven Avery) on the internet.  Recently, I read one comment that really got under my skin.  The writer said, ” I tried watching it and I couldn’t stand watching a show about trailer park trash.

Hmmm.  Reality check here, friend.  Whether one is “trailer park trash” or a socialite, one deserves fair treatment by the justice system.

I’ve been in hundreds of homes like the one Steven Avery lived in, both professionally and personally.  His parents’ home is fairly neat and clean, but their personal belongings aren’t custom designed by an interior designer.  Does that make them bad people?  No.

In fact, Steven Avery’s parents should be applauded for sticking wiith him through thick and thin.  His mother visited him more than once per week during his first incarceration (for which he was exonerated) of 18 years.  How many prisoners can say that have someone like that on their team?

Calling these people “trailer park trash” is deplorable.  It is snobbery at its worst–because of education and socioeconomic factors.  Not everyone is dealt an easy hand in life and clearly Steven Avery isn’t a member of Mensa.  It doesn’t make him less deserving of being treated fairly.

Do you think the farmers who grow the food you eat live in mansions?  Do you think the farmers who milk cows so that you can have milk, cheese and ice cream live in mansions?  No.  They wear work jeans stained with manure, work boots, and have farmers’ tans. They work from before dawn until after dusk without weekends or holidays off.  That doesn’t make them less of a human being than you.  And you certainly enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Why do you think the Averys run an automobile graveyard?  Because someone is going to!  People look for used car parts.  People look for an inexpensive used car.  The Averys developed a business to meet a need,  That’s just smart business sense and they don’t have MBAs.  Not everyone goes to the Mercedes or Rolls dealer every year and walks out with a new model!

Big city man, get your head on straight and realize that not everyone is worth millions.  But, that doesn’t mean they are any less of a human being than you and that they deserve any less justice than you would.  Try living in a trailer on a huge plot of land for a few months–maybe the fresh air will clear that smog out of your head.


The Devil Wears Pendleton

“She told me my yeast infection was caused by having sex with my boyfriend.  She says it is because we aren’t married.”

This horrifying declaration came from a previous co-worker whom I had recruited to work with me.  She was a talented young woman with a good heart, a sweet little son, and a devoted boyfriend.

Our boss, the company’s owner, had her own talent–wheedling information out of you and then using it against you.  Usually in the most painful ways.

I had come to work at her small, Christian company because she was looking to grow one division.  That division happened to be my area of expertise.  Over the next three years, I would grow the start up from a $60,000 per year after-thought to a $3,000,000+ efficient, revenue-producing machine.

When I’d first come to work there, I’d told the owner that my family was looking for a new church.  She invited us to attend her church, where she was a deacon.  It seemed to me this was a sincere invitation and my family accepted.

I loved that church.  I loved the people at that church.  I loved the music.  I loved the programs.  I loved the minister.  Despite its strict doctrine, which my family worked hard to adopt and uphold, I loved it there.  I still miss it.

We would soon spend many weekend afternoons with my boss and her family at their home, going over after church.  They seemed sincerely happy and God-centered.

Then the polish wore off.

I don’t know if she’d always been this way, but my gut tells me she had been and just pulled the wool over my eyes so she could “convert me to Christ.”  Self-aggrandizing.  Above reproach.  Ego-maniacal.  Psychopathic.  Focused on nothing but making money–even if it was a little crooked–and justifying it with her favorite saying, “You can’t outgive God.  I tithe 20% of my income and God pours out the blessings to me.”

Human Resource standards didn’t apply to her.  She once posted a sign in the women’s bathroom instructing ladies to flush before any solid matter hit the water to avoid making a smell.  Nothing was out of her notice or comment:  weight, stray mole hair, ugly sweater.  It was a free-for-all for her to critique.

Despite her eccentricities, she kept talking about retiring.  She promised, more than once, to make me President when she did.  Then, I did something she didn’t expect:  I got pregnant.  On purpose.  Without asking her first.

I thought it was best to have another baby before I had the responsibility of running the full company, which included three divisions.  I worked up until the day before I had my daughter.  I worked 60 hour weeks.  One day, the server crashed and I couldn’t reach anyone, so I went in to reset it, despite the fact that my baby’s head was against a nerve and I had to drag my left leg up the stairs.

When I returned from maternity leave, I tried to discuss the President position with her.

“I don’t know what you are talking about.  What promotion?”

“The promotion you promised me.  President of your company.  You said you wanted to retire next year.”

“I never said that.”

Oh.  My.  God.

I should have seen this coming.  I had seen her turn on others for the tiniest infraction.  She fired the Office Manager the day she returned from vacation after hearing a rumor that the Office Manager was considering quitting and starting her own business.  She made the Vice President of another division apologize to all the office staff in a meeting because she had refused to sign the annual Medicare report–because the VP wasn’t convinced the accounting was correct (smart woman).

Her husband left her.  One of her sons became a drug addict and stole his brother’s social security number to obtain credit.  Her personal life began to crumble.

She decided to get an office cat.  The kitten was at the vet getting neutered when she changed her mind and wanted an office dog.  I said I’d take the kitten for my son, so we went by the vet to meet it on our way out of town for a family trip.  My son was very excited.The next Monday, she announces she will have both an office dog and cat.  Great.  Now it is up to me to calm a crying 7-year-old with a different kitten.

When I look back at all the lives we had the opportunity to touch–we employed over 300 people, 99% of whom were women–it saddens me to think we could have been such a positive influence.  A great example as a female business owner.  A great example as Christians.

Instead, the chaotic environment in that office turned the example into a joke.  The turnover of staff was through the roof.  The men who worked in the office fought like bulls–I actually feared they would kill each other.

I decided to leave.  I couldn’t take the constant fighting in the office and the lies upon lies and judgments upon judgments.  When I gave my notice, she became downright evil.

Right before I left, out of pure curiosity and a desire to preserve a need for a reference, I secretly pulled my personnel file.  I found a note in the file (back)dated for a year before.  It said “I told Connie that she could not be President of my company because she had not been a member of my church long enough.”  Guess she did have some HR sense.  The joke was on her, though.  She should have checked her calendar.  She had dated the note for a Saturday, which was our Sabbath–a day that she absolutely forbid anyone to work.

Within a month of leaving, my husband and I got a mean, spiteful “anonymous” letter in the mail.  It was easy to identify that it was from her.  I called our pastor in tears.  He was silent.  I guess I forgot she had more money to tithe than I did.

A couple of years after I left the company, I got a call from a friend asking what the name of the company was that I used to work for.  I told him and he said, “they were just on the news.”  I ordered a videotape (this was long before the internet) and anxiously awaited its arrival.  Sure enough, there she was, with her fat, Pendleton-clad behind, sneaking into the door of my old offices, shouting at the camera about how they were on private property.  The news report was something about getting caught committing fraud.

I learned so many important lessons here.  About not judging others.  About not making promises you don’t intend to keep–even if circumstances change.  About standing behind the people who have stood behind you through thick and thin.  And about evil wearing the costume of Christianity.