The Workplace as Sanctuary

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on ungent tasks.  Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true.  The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on urgent tasks. Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true. The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Strengthening Workplace Relationships

For some employees their workplace is a sanctuary; compared to the realities of their home life, it is a paradise.

These employees look forward to going to work in the morning, often choosing to arrive early and they are reticent to accept the end of the work day, regularly opting for overtime beyond the hours of darkness. In fact, they will choose to hang out in the quiet corridors of the workplace on weekends rather than finding themselves immersed in the anxiety and stress of homelife.

When the stress of addressing a problem at home becomes overwhelming, flight to what is perceived to be a safe environment is rationalized. The kinds of stress that may provoke this response include family violence against men and women, relationship dissolution, financial distress, depression in various forms, and emotionally and physically draining health issues affecting a family member.

What are the implications for the workplace? To begin, the line between home and work is becoming blurred. And just as some teachers believe that their role is teaching and not character formation, some managers believe that their role is solely to deliver services and products. They would gladly prefer to ignore than engage in this issue, usually because they are competent managers of services and products, not people.

A sensitive manager will observe and recognize this behaviour and will immediately confront the employee on the cause; together they will seek out appropriate solutions.  The work focussed manager will be elated that he has an employee who can take on excesses of work and overtime and will often be oblivious to the cause.

Failure to address the problem will result in an exacerbation of problems for the employee at home; the greater the stress at home, the more this will influence the employee’s and the unit’s productivity.  At some point, the manager will be faced with decisions about dismissing this employee.

Even if some managers do not have the tools to recognize a problem brewing, the good news is that someone in the work area will usually pick up on the clues and inform their superiors.  Given this good fortune, the role of the manager is simply to problem solve — to identify support available for this employee and either to recommend or require that the employee start a process of healing.  In larger organizations these supports are readily available and widely advertised; in smaller organizations, managers will have to be creative and may be well advised to incur some cost to retain a highly trained and valuable employee.  In addition, managers observing an empathic approach to workplace related problems will build trust and loyalty for the business.

The message for the manager is simple: Be proactive – look for the early signs – seek out competent help – confront the employee – demand some form of therapy – be visible (as you can be; some issues will demand absolute confidentiality) in your behaviour.

Once again this is the difference between a manager that manages products and services and a manager that manages people to deliver services and products. Which one are you?