Why's it so hard to treat each other like adults? | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Contributing Writer 

I received an email from my youngest sister on Sunday afternoon this week. She wanted me to know that she has been offered a new job. It is a full time position which she’ll be starting a few days. Good for her right?

It is good.

In the grand scheme of things, this is just another story of a 50-something woman doing what she can to help make sure her two sons have an opportunity to complete college. Pretty ordinary situation, I suppose you’d say.

For that matter, most of our stories are pretty ordinary.

What makes any story interesting is primarily that it is ours and it is about how we are spending the precious time of our lives. So for my sister, while hers is
an ordinary story to you and me, it was a big deal, since she’d been looking for a full time spot for more than two years.

Again, in the grand scheme of things probably not that unusual an experience.

What got my attention about my sister’s story was that she finally figured out that she had been looking in the wrong place for what she wanted: her current employer.

She’s been working part-time for her current employer for the past couple of years. She had made it clear when she took the part time job that what she really wanted was a full-time opportunity.

So, why, you ask, is this event in my sister’s life worth writing about?

For me, it is the ordinariness of the situation that makes it worth looking into. We, at least I, spend a lot of time focused on what contributes to employee engagement.

My assumption is that engagement contributes to retention, which contributes to continuity, which contributes to productivity, all of which contributes to keeping costs down, which contributes to the bottom line.

And then, in spite of all the energy we put into discovering methods for making our places of work more engaging, something such as not being able to have an honest conversation undermines all our best efforts.

When my sister took the part-time position a couple of years back, her immediate supervisor said to her, in regards to her interest in full time work, “We’ll see what we can work out.”

During the two years she’s been there, she told me she’s had the same conversation with her supervisor at least once every three months and has gotten the same response.

“We’ll see what we can work out.”

What I am driving at here is not to determine who is right or wrong or to assign blame to anyone. Plainly, the response my sister was receiving was code for: “There’s really no chance you are going to end up with a full-time position unless something completely unpredictable happens.”

It just took my sister two years to decipher the message.

She liked the place of employment, enjoyed her co-workers and the convenience of working in a place close to her home. All of which no doubt contributed to her “hoping” that something would eventually work out.

Consider a different scenario, one where from day one in the part-time position my sister had been clearly informed that unless something out of the ordinary happened, she was going to have to settle for a part-time role.What if the employer had made it clear that they understood and supported her interest in full-time employment and hoped she eventually found what she was looking for?

It would not be there of course, but as long as she fulfilled the expectations of the role she would be assigned, she was welcome to be there as long as it served her interests.

Would the outcome have been any different?

Probably not, except for one thing.

My sister would be leaving with a sense that she had been treated as an adult, someone who doesn’t need to be coddled and related to like they cannot take “no” for an answer. And she would not be leaving with the disappointment she shared with me about notifying her supervisor that she would be moving on.

When she communicated her intent to leave, her supervisor’s response was, “Well that’s too bad, I just never knew what it was you really wanted.”

Horse #@&&!

Why can’t we just treat each other like grown ups?

Maybe then all the other machinations we engage in would not be as necessary.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He also publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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