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.

 

 

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.

What Candy Crush Saga Teaches Us about Training

I’m on level 202 on Candy Crush Saga currently.  I have spent a lot of time getting there.  I am hooked.  And I don’t like to be hooked on anything.  So, I spent some time thinking about why I like CCS and I realized that CCS is a great example of an excellent training program.  Try to follow me here…

Candy Crush Saga starts out simple:  match the candies and they disappear and you win.  Then, obstacles are introduced and you learn to overcome those obstacles.  Next comes harder obstacles (I hate those chocolate-making thingies), but you learn to overcome those.  In other words, Candy Crush Saga teaches us the skills we need along the way to be successful at the next level of obstacles.

AHA!  That is why I am hooked!  I get positive outcomes from the game the more I play!  And the game literally coaches me along and makes me successful.  Candy Crush Saga is the ultimate Pavlov’s dog experiment.

Now ask yourself, what if we took that concept and applied it to our employee training programs?  If you are like me, you are sometimes guilty of hiring a new person and bringing them into the company, doing a minimum amount of training and then setting them free, rarely to check on them again.  We are all guilty of it; the pressure of day-to-day operations catches up our time and we mean to check in and give feedback more frequently…but, the end of the day comes and it just doesn’t get done.

Maybe if we thought of our new employees as inexperienced Candy Crush Saga players, we would be more successful in our training, checking in to see what “level” they are on and what obstacles are keeping them from moving to the next level.  Think of it as a training game.

One part you want to leave out of the training game is Candy Crush Saga’s insistence on saying you “failed.”  Of course, for a competitive person like me, that is just a great challenge, but some people don’t respond so well.  Leave the word “failure” out of the training game…

out of the training game…Image

What We Owe Our Young People

As an employer, I have always felt that we have a special obligation to the young people we employ.  I have frequently made this a topic of conversation with my management teams.  I’m not talking about state laws that govern how many hours a week young people can work or OSHA regulations about what equipment they can use.  I am talking about what we owe them in regard to their future careers.

Have you ever considered what a big responsibility it is to be someone’s first employer?  You have the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of a young person’s career.  Are you up to the task?

First of all, we need to teach them that they must expect to work in a safe environment-whether they are working for us or for someone else-both physically and emotionally.  There are laws, for example, OSHA, that we must follow as employers, such as equipment that underage workers cannot use, and there are state laws that govern what hours underage workers can work.  We owe it to our young people to explain to them why these laws exist.  We also need to train them in the use of safety equipment (they’ve never done this before, folks) and why we require them to use the safety equipment.  We need to give them positive reinforcement when they follow these rules and coach them when they don’t.

More than physical safety is the emotional safety.   I cannot count the number of times I have worked with managers who allow staff or residents to verbally and/or sexually harass our young people.  It may be uncomfortable to discuss, but we have to intervene on their behalf.  These young workers don’t know that this kind of treatment is not part of their job.  They are scared.  And if we teach them that this behavior is ok, by not intervening for them, they will take it on to their next job.  Eventually they may become the harasser instead of the victim.  We need to be responsible for stopping that cycle before it starts.

There is lots of discussion in the HR literature about working with Generation X, Y and etc.  I say this is managers making excuses for taking the easy way.  If we don’t teach Generation X, Y or whatever that there are rules at work—uniforms, being on time, not using vulgar language—who will?  This doesn’t mean you can’t relate to them on their own level regarding some subjects, but it means someone has to teach them the reality of working.  I have never run into problems with a young person in my job because I made him or her follow the rules.

I remember when my son got his nose pierced.  As a mother, I was a bit mortified, but it is his body and he wasn’t hurting anyone.  One day, he fell and we thought he broke his collar bone.  I took him to the emergency room.  The doctor was a 40-something woman.  As she was examining my son, she asked him how much it hurt.  He said he didn’t know.  Then she said the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard:  “Does it hurt more than it did when you got your nose pierced?”    At that moment, I could have kissed her!  You see most adults, especially professionals, never knew what to say to my son about his nose ring.  But, this doctor brought it right into the conversation, showing she related to my son, but continuing with her professional boundaries.

My  point is this:  You can talk to Johnny about his ears being gauged to an inch or about his new tattoo, but that doesn’t mean he gets to wear his earrings at work or show his tats.  There are still rules that must be followed and you, fellow manager, have the task of making sure we educate these young people that we and every future employer are going to expect them to follow those rules.

What We Owe Our Young People

As an employer, I have always felt that we have a special obligation to the young people we employ.  I have frequently made this a topic of conversation with my management teams.  I’m not talking about state laws that govern how many hours a week young people can work or OSHA regulations about what equipment they can use.  I am talking about what we owe them in regard to their future careers.

Have you ever considered what a big responsibility it is to be someone’s first employer?  You have the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of a young person’s career.  Are you up to the task?

First of all, we need to teach them that they must expect to work in a safe environment-whether they are working for us or for someone else-both physically and emotionally.  There are laws, such as OSHA, that we must follow as employers, such as equipment that underage workers cannot use, and there are state laws that govern what hours underage workers can work.  We owe it to our young people to explain to them why these laws exist.  We also need to train them in the use of safety equipment (they’ve never done this before, folks) and why we require them to use the safety equipment.  We need to give them positive reinforcement when they follow these rules and coach them when they don’t.

More than physical safety is the emotional safety.   I cannot count the number of times I have worked with managers who allow staff or residents to verbally and/or sexually harass our young people.  It may be uncomfortable to discuss, but we have to intervene on their behalf.  They don’t know that this kind of treatment is not part of their job.  They are scared.  And if we teach them that this behavior is ok, by not intervening for them, they will take it on to their next job.  Eventually they may become the harasser instead of the victim.  We need to be responsible for stopping that cycle before it starts.

There is lots of discussion in the HR literature about working with Generation X, Y and etc.  I say this is managers making excuses for taking the easy way.  If we don’t teach Generation X, Y or whatever that there are rules at work—uniforms, being on time, not using vulgar language—who will?  This doesn’t mean you can’t relate to them on their own level regarding some subjects, but it means someone has to teach them the reality of working.  I have never run into problems with a young person in my job because I made him or her follow the rules.

I remember when my son got his nose pierced.  As a mother, I was a bit mortified, but it is his body and he wasn’t hurting anyone.  One day, he fell and we thought he broke his collar bone.  I took him to the emergency room.  The doctor was a 40-something woman.  As she was examining my son, she asked him how much it hurt.  He said he didn’t know.  Then she said the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard:  “Does it hurt more than it did when you got your nose pierced?”    At that moment, I could have kissed her!  You see most adults, especially professionals, never knew what to say to my son about his nose ring.  But, this doctor brought it right into the conversation, showing she related to my son, but continuing with her professional boundaries.

My  point is this:  You can talk to Johnny about his ears being gauged to an inch or about his new tattoo, but that doesn’t mean he gets to wear his earrings at work or show his tats.  There are still rules that must be followed and you, fellow manager, have the task of making sure we educate these young people that we and every future employer are going to expect them to follow those rules.

The Saga of Toilet Paper

Because I live in retirement communities as a Pro Tem Executive Director, I experience first hand what our residents experience.  This gives me a unique perspective on all the services we provide, from dining to housekeeping.  These experiences have led me to a conclusion:  we have a toilet paper issue.

Every other week, the housekeepers clean my apartment.  They are wonderful, dedicated, and dynamic women (there are few men).  Their hearts are in their work.  They love our residents and they love their jobs.  However, consistently I have experienced in most of my communities that I can’t get them to leave me more than one roll of toilet paper to last for a two-week period of time.

If this had happened in only one community, I wouldn’t have noticed, but about the fourth or fifth community, I started to notice this pattern.  And that got me to thinking.  How is it that we have caring, dedicated individuals who would leave out this detail?  Then I realized:  we have trained some of the good common sense right out of them.

No matter the industry, we spend a lot of time and money training our staff.  For housekeepers, we concentrate not only on the process they use to clean, but how much product they use to complete the task.  If they are using more cleaning or paper products than their peers, the department manager will be having a discussion with them.  But, if you asked these ladies if it is realistic that one roll of toilet paper should last someone for two weeks, they would answer emphatically:  “No.”

What are we doing, as managers, when we focus so much on efficiency and cost-effectiveness?  We risk making our employees scared to do the right thing when it comes to serving our customers.  And not having enough toilet paper is just the tip of that iceberg.