I didn’t have any intention of writing this article until I woke up this morning. After seeing all the news and reminders about breast cancer month I was compelled to talk about how a health scare created an employee/employer bond that can’t be broken.
It’s time for me to own up. Not many people know that I went through breast cancer and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment two years ago. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t talk much about it.
I pride myself on helping others and was surprised by my reaction to the diagnoses. I didn’t let many people help me. I was overwrought with emotions. I put a cocoon around myself and went deep within to deal with the cancers. I told only those who absolutely needed to know and I asked them not to discuss it with me or anyone else unless I brought it up. I realize, without a doubt, that was very difficult for family, friends and co-workers who love and care for me. Yet, everyone respected my wishes.
What does this have to do with company culture? How employees are treated every day is part of your company culture. An employee in crisis can magnify aspects of the culture either good or bad.
Build your culture and help an employee at the same time
I was working for a large corporation at the time and was naturally nervous about what cancer would mean for my life and career. I was worried that I wouldn’t be considered for a promotion or plumb assignment if they thought I couldn’t handle it physically or if my future was uncertain.
Fortunately, I had a manager and employer who respected my wishes and helped me through my treatment. Their handling of my diagnoses also demonstrates the culture they want for the company. They value their employees; plain and simple. Here is how my situation was handled and how helping employees when they’re “down” can help build a culture of mutual admiration.
Six actions to take to help an employee through a crisis
- Listen, listen, listen. This is the single most important action any manager can take during a difficult situation. Listen for what your employee is saying and not saying.
- Ask how you can help. Find out what they would like you to do or not do.
- Respect the employee’s wishes. If the employee wants support from his/her team, help them get it. If they want to keep it on the down low, abide by their decision.
- Look out for ways you can alleviate their stress. This can be in the form of easing their workload, setting up a system that will allow your employee to attend to any necessary appointments without having to ask, or providing them with additional resources.
- Check in. Their needs may change from the initial discussion and you want to make sure you’re helping them throughout the process.
- Give them time to adjust to their new reality. Continue to view this employee as an active contributor who will come through their situation to be the same or better employee. Other employees are watching closely to see how you’re handling the situation.
I am healthy and free of cancer. I was loyal to my employer and co-workers before my health scare. Their approach to my situation made me double down on my commitment and demonstrated to those closest to me at work how a compassionate manager and employer can make a difference.
Since my treatment, many aspects of my life have changed. I was promoted to a position I always wanted two months after returning from a short medical leave. Six months later, I made some difficult and dramatic changes because I realized that I didn’t want to put off dreams I had for my future. My husband and I moved to Florida from New Jersey and started our own business, Paradise Workplace Solutions.
I made sure before leaving that someone was in place, up to speed on leading my group and that there was a smooth transition. I wanted the company to know that I appreciated everything they did for me and that I had no intention of leaving them in a lurch.
After my leaving the company, the manner in which I was treated remains a part of the culture they are building every day. My commitment to my former manager and employer is still strong. I cheer for my former co-workers and company from the sidelines and advocate for the work they are doing. I am a staunch supporter and make sure I refer only the very best potential employees because I want their culture to be the best it can be. That’s the least I can do for the co-workers, manager and company who helped me through the most difficult time of my life.
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Paradise Workplace Solutions, LLC works with business owners dealing with disappointing business results get on a path to improved productivity and profitable growth by aligning people strategies to the company’s business plan.