Sorry Team, Not My Best


Yesterday I wasn’t at my best near the end of the day for my teammates. Ironically the reason why was precisely because all through the day, I’d been at my best for a number of people. I found myself jumping from one person to another, expending a lot of ‘me’, without time to pause, reflect, debrief and center myself. My 11 years plus office mate I historically debriefed with has moved on.

It started at 7:40 a.m. and ran right through until I shut down during a team meeting around 3:15 p.m. At 4:10 p.m., I walked out the doors where I work and carried it right into the usual transition sanctuary of my car. It wasn’t until early evening at home, cup of orange pekoe in my hands that I worked through the days stories and gave them up.

Like me, you’ve had those days where you too gave a sizable portion of yourself to others, beyond your typical capacity? At some point, your saturation level was reached, yet you were pushed beyond into your reserves and without your typical full self-awareness, that one extra thing came your way. And it’s that one extra thing that causes us to either shut down or act in some way we wouldn’t typically. The proverbial straw that breaks the camels back.

The weird thing about yesterday was I’d sum it up as a good day for the most part. It sure didn’t go the way I’d drawn up the day in my mind when arriving at 7:30 a.m. though.

I’ve already worked through a full day yesterday twice; experiencing it live and working it through in the sanctuary of home last night. I’ve no desire to lay it out here a third time. Suffice to say, in addition to the regular responsibilities of the day, 4 people unexpectedly shared with and entrusted to my keeping, their own substantially heavy life events.

Now this is a privilege; to be the one person who comes to mind when a crisis comes up and help is needed. I’m so thankful that I’ve done enough in the past that my voice at the end of the phone, my physical presence or reply to their email was what they sought.

It was a perfect storm you know; arriving at work early with an idea to revising some workshop materials, having a call 10 minutes after arriving even though that call came 20 minutes before I officially start at 8:00 a.m. Then heading into a workshop 5 minutes before it was due to start after a huddle with two team members about an important topic expected to arise at our meeting later in the day. Then working through the a.m. break because I was needed, prepping for a lunch meeting with someone who also needed me but couldn’t make it. Hurriedly eating a shortened lunch after giving up 45 minutes of it for someone else who needed me. Responding to a couple of consults from co-workers via email seeking my advice on how to proceed with someone’s trauma, wrapping up a shortened workshop and then heading right into a team meeting for the final two hours of the day. It might be exhausting to read this paragraph, but it was ever more so to experience it first-hand.

That might not sound like a lot to many of you. Comparatively speaking, you might have days much more draining that mine. I’ve no wish to contest who’s days are more taxing so I’ll concede that for you the reader, you may have far more energy draining days. The thing about working with people though, for those of us who live it, is that if you really want to be effective, you have to open yourself up and touch emotions to empathetically feel some semblance of what they are experiencing. Then you listen, acknowledge, support and where appropriate and invited, provide hope and encouragement with some advice on finding resolution and forward movement.

To do this and do it well, you listen attentively and respectfully; it’s time consuming and can’t be rushed. So when you think about it, you move quickly doing what you’d expect and in the moments when you should be processing and recovering, you’re unexpectedly in the middle of another story; and there were some major ones shared with me. So it’s move quick, halt; move quick, halt; and it happened all day.

So in my team meeting, with no debriefing, no down time, receiving a full agenda and all of us feeling individually pulled and stretched of late, I shut down to avoid saying and acting in some way I’d later regret. It wasn’t any one thing someone said but rather a few comments which in those circumstances, had me disengage and I told the team I was doing so. My capacity was exceeded, my reserves near exhausted, and we still had 45 minutes to go at that point. I knew I had one last call to make to someone who only seconds before our meeting, also really hoped I call before the days end.

My perfect storm.

I’m glad actually about one thing. After 3 decades in the Social Services field, people’s anguish and life stories still impact me and affect me. That’s important for me at least, to know and have awareness of. To know I am still of help? That to me is it’s own reward.

Today shall be good. I shall be better.

 

Would You Remove Them From Class?


I’ll put my position right up front; never. Nope, I’ll never remove someone from any class I lead with one exception. (Drat! There’s always one exception; and if there’s one exception I can hardly say I’d never remove someone now can I?)

Seriously, the only time I’ll remove someone from a class I lead is when it is clearly in THEIR best interests. I’ve known a lot of people over the years who kick people out of their classes simply for their own personal benefit. Oh they may say it’s for the good of the other participants but in reality, well, we know better!

Now you might not agree with my position on refraining from removing people from a class for sporadic attendance as an example. Well, here’s how I see things. Perfect attendance is ideal; after all you can’t learn what you miss hearing, seeing and experiencing. When you’re in a class where success is achieved by building on what was learned the previous day, missing class is a huge barrier.  However, the way I see things, when referring to adult participants, treating them like adults means the accountability lies with them rather than me. In other words, they get out what they put in. I’m here, I’m sharing and instructing to those who show up, and if you come and go, you have to assume the responsibility for both what you learn and what you miss.

I know unemployed people have more than just the job hunt taking up their precious thoughts. I’ve met a vast number of people who earnestly want to get a job. All they can control however – and make note of this point – is what they can control. That sounds trite but my point is unemployed people never just have the lack of a job to focus on; no, not ever, and they may lack resources to solve problems too.

Right off the top, the lack of a job often means the person lacks an identity. Instead of saying, “I’m a Carpenter and I work for ________”, they can only say, “I’m a Carpenter by trade”, leaving out the shared identity with an employer. Coupled with this loss of identity as employed is a huge hit to self-esteem. Why after all do you think people hide their unemployed status from family and friends as long as they can? And when was the last time you asked someone what they do for a living and they responded with a confidently delivered, “Why I’m unemployed and in receipt of government financial assistance. Thank you for asking.” Yep; never.

So lack of status, self-esteem and obviously financial income. No job, no money. No money, mounting bills. Mounting bills, increased debt. Increased debt, poor credit score. Poor credit score, no job in some organizations. All of these lead to soaring stress, anxiety, confusion; a trip along the rollercoaster of applying for jobs with high hopes, crushing defeats of being ignored completely, rising hopes when interviewed, dashed dreams of success when rejected..

Now let’s add the stuff that isn’t shared by everyone. You know, the specific problems a person has. Here you can choose from dysfunctional families, homelessness, threats of eviction, physical ailments, concerns with being too young or too old to be taken seriously. Literacy issues, isolation, depression, single-parent status with no childcare, lack of appropriate clothing for interviews, transportation, gaps on the resume, lack of current education and/or expired licences and certificates. Take a breath. How about rent payments due, lost bus passes to agonize over, mislaid identification, court proceedings with the ex to discuss support payments and visitation access. Let’s round things out with the parents who fret and worry about you being so vulnerable and who keep saying you just need someone to take care of you; totally undermining your long held belief that you are independent, strong and quite able to take care of yourself.

Yes, so with all the above going on – or if not all the above then certainly a lot of the above going on with those looking for a job, it borders on cruelty to misread someone’s sporadic attendance as entirely their responsibility or fault and penalize them by removing them. All this accomplishes is adding another failure to their growing list of things to feel bad about.

So when someone doesn’t attend the way you’d like in your class, demonstrate empathy and allow them to continue. Don’t ask why they can’t commit because honestly, they may not be able to articulate all the reasons. As for the others in the class who do show up daily and do contribute and do their best to succeed, praise them for doing so.  You might tell them that you’re taking notice of their good behaviours and that their actions are all contributing to their future success. You might even go so far as to remind them that the stresses they are experiencing may be similar to what others are going through, only the others have fewer resources than they do to cope.

The gift you give your participants is a new perspective; empathy for their fellow classmates. You are suddenly not just teaching people about job hunting or career exploration etc., you’ve just added a life skill; a human element that came as an added bonus not mentioned in the promotional brochure that enticed them to attend.

Well done!

Those Across The Table Struggle Too


Have you ever thought much about the people you deal with every day who sit or stand across the table or counter from you and provide a service? Far from robotic, these too are average folks who get up, go to work, do the best they can and go home. They have personal struggles, mental health issues, real-life disasters, hopes and dreams, wants and needs just like me; just like you.

Not many of us care to know quite frankly. When we go in to renew our licence plate stickers and get in that 12 person deep line, shunting our way up to the counter, we just want to pay our dues, get the sticker and leave. We may even share with those we meet for the rest of the day our complaint about the long line, the inconvenience of the process and high fees, and to finish off our rant, complain about the attitude and tone of voice of the man or woman who served us.

And this lack of thought isn’t confined to someone at the licencing centre. No, we likely don’t give much of a thought to the well-being of the Bank Teller who handles our transactions, the person who serves us in the drive-through, the shopkeeper who sells us an item in their store. If you’ve got something – some things – on your mind that worry, stress, preoccupy and keep you from focusing on what you’re doing with a 100% positive attitude, why is it hard to understand that the other people we interact with daily have similar challenges?

Now, to be clear, when we are dealing with such people, it’s inappropriate for both you and I to stop and ask with sincerity how they are doing and whether or not they’d like to open up and share their problems with us. We don’t all have the necessary training to start with and there’s that growing line behind you that you’re now holding up and in doing so, you’re compounding their stress to serve others. And surely, you don’t really expect them to honestly share much of anything with you in that public setting, nor expect them to fully trust you whom they don’t know much at all?

What you and I can do however is our very best to be everything we’d expect in return: courteous, respectful, kind, pleasant to deal with and yes, smile which makes us nicer to deal with.

You might think this is a given; it’s known, basic, interpersonal skills 101. However, I see many people approach those behind the counters and treat them poorly. Raised voices, a lack of manners, scowls at the outset, seemingly looking to provoke an altercation, foul language, animated faces and drama more suited to a theatre stage than a bank reception area. I’ve even found myself apologizing for someone else’s rude behaviour when it’s my turn. Just acknowledging the difficulty they had providing service to the previous person goes a long way.

The thing is we expect the people who serve us to be 100% focused on us. Some would say, “That’s what their paid to do so yes, just do their job.” And honestly if that’s your reaction, you’re likely one of the people who doesn’t care to think about other people as, well…. people. Why would you assume they shouldn’t be working if they’ve got problems on their minds? My goodness, many people would sit home for long periods were this the case.

The truth of the matter is that a great number of people with problems, worries, stressors and mental health challenges find the inner resolve and strength to go about their work day each and every day. They do bring their problems with them to work, then to the grocery stores where they stand in line served by others, then to the gas stations or bus stops where they are surrounded by more people and served by the Cashier or the Bus Driver. On the outside they may look like they’ve got it all together; not a care in the world. On the inside, hidden away from the public, they too may be dealing with all kinds of things we’ve no idea of.

So it’s important therefore to be kind, respectful and yes, even empathetic when we don’t get the absolute best from whomever we are dealing with. If the Waitress neglects to bring us the ketchup we asked for, it’s surely not something to make a big deal over is it? Ask a second time and be kind about it. Maybe she’s worried about getting a call from the school about her child’s behaviour, perhaps she received an eviction notice just before coming to work and she’s conflicted with being here at work serving you so she holds on to her job, but really would rather be packing up or planning to fight it.

To close, I often suggest to you readers that you take advantage of counselling services to unburden your load, share your troubles and in so doing, move forward. That person listening to you, for all their expertise is a human too. As you pour all your feelings out, you’re one of 3 or 4 to do so that day and every day. That’s a huge responsibility they take on gladly, and while they are paid well, they also pay a price you can’t measure.

Be kind, show gratitude, be understanding. Every day with everyone.

Motivational Interviewing: Establishing A Tone Of Trust


One thing I’m extremely thankful for is that I’ve never lost the respect for everyone I meet and that each person who comes to me for help is unique. Every person has their own unique back story, and even if I were to think it sounds remarkably like others I’ve heard, I know I’ve never heard this back story from the person telling it to me now. Remembering to listen with full attention to the person before me is critical if I’m going to create a trusting climate where they feel safe enough to open up and tell me the important things that lay deeper than the surface stuff.

A poor Employment Counsellor – and yes poor examples exist in my field just as there are in any group of people – will neglect to fully listen. One of the most attractive traps one can fall into is to hear only enough from the person you’re helping to figuratively lump them in with others with similar stories. When doing this, your active listening stops, and your mind starts perusing your ready-made solutions that worked in the past, and you pull out solution number 4 and present it as the panacea to solve all this person’s troubles. “I have the perfect answer for you! Just follow the steps of my plan here and you’ll reach the end goal. I’m so happy to have helped!”

That’s just not going to work. What’s more, the person before you is intelligent enough to know you’ve tuned them out and you’re not really engaged with their unique situation. In short, they feel you don’t really understand because you didn’t hear them out; and they’re right.

A situation like this was shared with me just yesterday when a colleague consulted with me about someone she was working with. The fellow has a degree in Economics and some Employment Counsellor in another agency advised him to go after one of the job postings she had for a Restaurant Server. He felt shut down, unheard, misread and told her as much; she branded him a problem client.

Listening sounds like one of the easiest things to do; our ears pick up sounds without us having to turn hearing on and off, so we assume what we hear is 100% of what the person is saying when in fact we don’t. There are techniques like paraphrasing and saying things like, “Tell me more about that” which are designed to both acknowledge for the person that they were heard, and communicate a genuine want to hear more about something. Eye contact is critical too. I mean, how do you feel yourself when someone you’re speaking to breaks that eye contact and looks to your right or left as if something more interesting just happened behind you. You feel that connection is broken.

Have you ever considered your eye contact is one of the strongest ways to forge a bond? All those poets and authors who talked about seeing someone’s soul through their eyes; they were on to something there and they understood. If you want to make a subtle change that requires little effort but at the same time make a huge impact on those you counsel, work on maintaining eye contact. Don’t go for the beady-eyed, burn-through-your-skull kind of freakish look; that only scares others into thinking you’re getting kind of scary.

Direct eye contact that communicates enthusiasm for what this person has to share is what you’re after. From time to time in the conversation you’ll want to speak in a quiet voice that communicates concern and strong interest, such as when they relate something unpleasant. When they share something lighter or amusing, it’s okay to reflect warmth, smile, laugh along with them and that’s the moment to take that look away. Humour is essential to break tension, offer a break between heavy topics, and release some tension.

Of course what all this is really doing is continuing to build a trusting climate between you and this person before you. It is a huge mistake I think to start your meeting off with a statement that says, “We’ve only got 60 minutes to do your résumé so let’s dive right in – where did you work last and why aren’t you there now?” This kind of opening does set the tone that this is a business meeting with a clear goal, but it also communicates your time is more valuable than they are. All you’re going to get now is dates, past jobs and education. All the nuances of why they moved, what they found pleasing, what they want to avoid, where they feel most comfortable or most vulnerable; you’ve shut that down with your opening salvo.

The unfortunate message they receive is that whatever you’re doing in 60 minutes trumps your time with them now. Whether it’s your lunch or morning break, another client squeezed in to your schedule etc. they don’t really care, but they only have time now to do a token resume. The ironic thing? 60 minutes might be the same time you’d need to do a superior job that meets their needs and gets the document finished had you started by thanking them for the opportunity of meeting them and inviting them to share openly and honestly throughout your meeting. Some open-ended questions might set the tone of trust.

Challenge yourself; perhaps today – listen like you’ve never heard the story you’re hearing now; because you haven’t.

Invested Trust. What Is It And Why Should You Care?


I’d like you to pause for a moment and think about the people you rely on in your personal life; whether it’s a home renovation contractor, someone you consult at the local garden centre for advice or the doctor you consult for the aches and ailments that flare up periodically. Think specifically about the relationship you have with these people and whether it’s as positive as you’d like. If you aren’t satisfied with how you’re treated, you’ll likely look elsewhere until you find someone you trust.

Now presumably, that renovation contractor and medical doctor have spent a considerable amount of time learning their trade. They invested time and money, gaining experience with every job and with every interaction built a reputation. Many professionals don’t even advertise aggressively; relying more and more as they grow their business on word-of-mouth referrals. The good ones always seem in demand. Go to a garden centre on a semi-regular basis and you’ll soon spot the difference between the seasoned expert with reliable advice and the summer student. Got a problem? You go to the professional to draw on their experience and you extend trust in their knowledge by doing so.

So trust is a good thing that attracts us to certain people. The more we trust in advice, experience and service someone has to offer, the more we are likely to continue to deal with that person.

However, it’s just as true that there are a lot of qualified service providers who, while we admit they the experience and education to do the work they do, we nonetheless look elsewhere for help when we need it. We might feel that someone isn’t taking our needs seriously enough; they seem too busy or despite all their experience, we just don’t feel that they understand our situation. What’s really happening is that we don’t feel they are invested in our problem. Be it the body language, the apparent lack of interest, the big sigh or look beyond our shoulder to some far off space, we just don’t feel this person before us is really invested in our immediate needs.

Invested trust manifests itself when we feel a professional is genuinely focused on our problem at hand; that they understand us sufficiently so trusting them to advise us and/or do work for us is something we do with confidence. Think about a retail experience if you’d like. You know when the salesperson is invested in your needs and when they aren’t.

Now the same is true when others interact with us. No matter the line of work you are in, if your job brings you into contact with people, those same people are sizing us up all the time, evaluating whether we’re invested in their needs and whether they can trust us to do the work we do.

Unfortunately for some, it’s not as easy as switching the professional you work with as it is say, seeking advice from someone else in a garden centre. In some communities finding a new doctor is almost impossible, or having being assigned a Caseworker when applying for government help, you’re stuck with who you get. It’s not as easy to just shop around and give your business to someone else.

If I’m correct in my beliefs, I’m going to assume you’d like to give your personal business to people who are invested in your needs and who come with the experience and expertise which makes trusting in the quality of work they’ll do easier. The bigger the project or the greater your needs, the more selective you are when it comes to choosing your provider.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that following this same logic, you’d want someone you could trust and someone who is invested in genuinely helping you when you’re trying to find career direction, employment, housing or childcare. All of these are pretty big things that mean a lot to the people searching for help. The question of who to trust with our problem or challenge is huge.

If you want to succeed as a provider of service, invest yourself in the people you offer services for; understand their needs from their perspective and lay the foundation of trust. Keep the promises you make and deliver what you said you would do. Whether you offer your services for free or you charge makes no difference; work with integrity as if this single person was the only person you have as a client at the moment.

Does your level of investment in the people you provide services for lead them to extend their trust in you to do as they expect? Ask yourself what you might do to increase that level of invested trust. You see, you could have all the necessary credentials on paper that make you sound like the right person for the job – maybe even more than others who do what you do. What you might find frustrating though is wonder why you aren’t as busy as you’d like. Why is it that people are taking their business elsewhere?

While there could be other reasons, one thing you can’t afford is to lose is the trust of the people who receive your services. Invest yourself and when they feel you really understand and care about their needs, their trust will follow.

A Glimpse Into The Social Assistance Experience


If you’ve never needed it, I doubt you’ve thought a great deal about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of the Social Assistance experience. Your knowledge and assumptions are probably based on what you hear in the news when an individuals’ story is profiled, from a candidate around election time or perhaps you’ve got a friend or family member who has shared a little of their own experience.

It has been my great honour and privilege to serve and support those receiving such benefits in two Municipalities; Toronto and Durham in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario for a total of 21 years and counting. In addition to this experience, my wife has 16 or so years of experience herself working in another municipality. While my experience is extensive, I’ve never been on the receiving end myself, and I hope the choices I’ve made and continue to make into the future don’t land me in such need.

That being said, if the time comes when I’m in need, I know now that I’d be thankful the support system was there to help get me through such times until once more I became financially self-sufficient.

It can be a very demeaning and embarrassing process to apply for welfare. In Ontario Canada it’s referred to now as Ontario Works, but to many in receipt, it is and will always be welfare.  It all starts with a phone call to apply in which someone in need talks to someone in what is akin to a call centre. The conversation while initiated by someone in need is pretty much led by the receiving employee asking preset questions. Full name, address, SIN and Health numbers, rent/mortgage information, family members, assets, banking information, investments, etc.; all of which will need to be verified at an in-person meeting to determine eligibility.

I get that it can strip one of their pride and self-worth. With every document you hand over to some stranger, with every disclosure of your personal circumstances such as whether you’ve been abused or the name of your child’s father or mother and where they might be, you give up a little dignity. While most in this field are very good at getting this information in a caring compassionate way, no amount of empathy can change that stuff you’d normally keep private and confidential must be fully disclosed.

Now the agenda of the person in need is pretty clear. Almost all the time, there’s a stated desperation present or looming; rent and food. Get approved and the rent gets paid and people eat. Get denied and a missed rental payment eviction and hunger, a visit from the child welfare authorities, homelessness, begging and worse, having to steal to survive.

If as my piece began you’ve not had to experience social assistance, maybe you’re completely unaware of the community resources you’ll have to tap into. Where would you find the kitchens, thrift stores, donation centers, etc.? If you needed your ID replaced to get many of these benefits, would you know where to go and remember it’s likely you’d have to walk or take public transportation; taking your child or children with you everywhere if you were a sole support parent without a trusted, reliable childcare provider.

Now meeting with us in Social Services for many is a good experience in the end. However, in those first few meetings, the anxiety and stress of anticipating what that experience will be like is often influenced by past meetings and stereotypes of government workers. Just as you’ve no doubt got frustrated with being put on hold, re-directed, not getting through to the person you need to talk to etc. when calling for help yourself, the experience can be like that for some. What increases the importance of getting through is the immense pressure and stress of failing to get the help asked for.

Look there are a lot of really good, compassionate and empathetic people in the business of providing social assistance recipients with support. While these are good qualities, what’s really needed in addition are people both knowledgeable and able to share that same knowledge of resources needed in any one person’s situation. Whether it’s a benefit we can issue ourselves or a benefit another service provider offers, connecting people with what they need is imperative.

On the receiving end, people want to be heard, respected, treated with dignity and foremost be a person; not a case, not a number and no, not a client. Most aren’t in receipt by choice. On top of their financial needs, many have multiple barriers to employment including gaps in work history, mental health challenges, anxiety, low self-esteem. You’d be surprised though to find highly educated professionals in receipt of help; people with their Masters and Degrees perhaps. Yes, really.

Hopefully, supporting people in need is done in the way we would wish to be treated were it us on the other side of the table or end of the phone. “Do onto others…” And while we may have our hopes and plans for people, it’s critical to listen and figure out where someone is at any given moment. I mean, are they ready to job search? Would job searching just set them up to fail at the moment? Do they need stable housing first, addiction intervention, counselling, or maybe to volunteer to rebuild a shattered confidence?

Just the briefest glimpse into this experience.

From The Bosses Point Of View


I’m guessing if you are like most people, from time-to-time you’ve imagined what you might do if you ran the show. That’s a good thing actually. Why? Because most of the time when you are doing that imagining, you’re picturing how you would improve things.

Think for a moment what kind of people you’d like working for you; presumably you’d like to keep yourself around! Now you’re sitting in the big chair. You’ve got new and greater responsibilities that demand your attention. As a worker, the changes you’d implement within the first hour of taking on the job will have to wait a bit because you’ve just found out you’ve got a meeting with your Manager. It seems that although you are now seen by your previous co-workers as, ‘The Boss’; you yourself now have someone new to answer to.

Well that meetings over, and it’s time to get down to making those changes you’ve always wanted to when you were on the front line. Sure it’s true that the big changes you wanted to implement right away have been put on hold by your new boss, but you have been given the clearance to make some minor improvements.

Just as you are rolling up your sleeves and about to write that memo advising everyone on your team of your initiatives, in comes one of your staff with a problem. It seems one of the people expected in at work has had an unforeseen problem come up and they won’t be in. Not a problem really, just tell the boss and they’ll deal with…oh wait…you’re the boss. Right. Okay, so you’ll get to your memo in a few minutes.

Well it turns out arranging for coverage took much longer than expected, and you weren’t all that impressed with Jim’s apparent reluctance to fill in and do an extra shift. Note made. And come to think of it, maybe in the future, Alice could have come to you with potential solutions to the problem instead of just presenting the problem and dumping on you. Note made. Wow you’ve only been on the job a short time and have two things to improve. Now to get down to that memo.

As you sit down to compose your thoughts, your train of thought is being sidetracked by the commotion in the hall. Suddenly what you were previously part of, (chatting in the corridor on the way to the break room) is really annoying. Do those people – who yesterday were your peers – have no understanding of the work you are trying to do in order to make things better here at the workplace. My goodness, and it’s just idle chit-chat about plans for the upcoming weekend. Surely that kind of talk should be limited when there’s so much work to be done. Note to self, speak to the team about productivity and focus.

Where where you? Never mind, the phone is ringing. One of the clients the firm is working with has some questions about shipments, and wants to make some alternative arrangements. Alternative arrangements? Do we do that? How? Now you’ve got something to check up on that just became your immediate priority. Funny how no one told you about this possibility. Is this a customer trying to get one over on the new guy who doesn’t know better, or does this kind of thing really happen all the time?

As you open your email to send your question off, you suddenly see a bracket with the number 57 in it right next to your inbox. 57 emails? How did they get there? Just a few minutes ago you had none! You’d previously be lucky to get any emails other than your horoscope and oops, as you’re looking the number is refreshed at 64.

Such is your first morning on the job. All the priorities you set for yourself are being replaced by others people’s needs. You feel more like a Firefighter than a Supervisor. Still, you’ve got your ideas, plans, notes for improvements. The job itself would be so much easier if there weren’t all these people who appeared to need your input, advice, direction and approval.

And that’s when it hits you between the eyes. The job you’ve taken on is people management. Front line people actually do much of the work that impacts directly on your customers. And it’s your customers that ultimately keep your business in business. Maybe the best thing to do then is to concentrate on providing support to your team so that those people in turn can do their jobs with the right tools, in the right environment, with the right amount of supervision.

Maybe the conversation you heard in the hall about plans for the weekend was the necessary social interaction between workers that keeps the workplace a happy place; a place where people care about each other and feel cared for in return. Maybe those chit-chats help productivity and keep workers focused before and after breaks. So you toss out the note.

And Alice? She did come to you immediately when there was an issue of coverage on the floor. According to the policies of the company, she did exactly what she’s supposed to do, and her job description doesn’t extend to replacing staff. That line is on your description.

Sometimes seeing things from the bosses point of view is helpful. It can help you gain perspective. And that’s a good thing.