I had 2 situations today in life and the office that make me feel like shit. Tough love is necessary sometimes, but it wreaks havoc when it becomes necessary when I am not expecting a issue to arise and feel unprepared to deal with it competently.
The personal situation was with my young friend. She IS really young, on her first career type job, and in her third week of training. Today there was an incident with a coworker, a snarky coworker, who maybe started joking and teasing yet managed to take it way too far. Now, I’m way past my 20s (young friend is just 22), yet I remember being that young, insecure, and unsure of myself in new situations. It was a time of growth and it was damn painful.
So my friend phones me on her afternoon break, in tears. Supporting herself while attending school and working a retail job up until this point has not allowed for a lot of extra money for clothes and such, and she is somewhat self-conscious about having limited choices in outfits for work.Dress code at her office is business casual, so she wears black pants and nice top every day. Basically, she has 2 pairs of black pants, 5 shirts suitable for work, and a single pair of shoes. Her clothes are clean and pressed and she looks professional, but it’s not terribly flashy or cutting edge stylish.
Her coworker today started questioning her about why she wears the same outfits every week, especially when the office is so casual. Friend says she has limited clothes available suitable for work – an honest answer – at which coworker starts “joking” that she is a bag lady and has been shopping thrift and Goodwill. Friend, knowing she can be overly sensitive, tries to change the subject and get out of the spotlight, but this coworker would not let it go. “Joking” is no longer joking when the other party starts feeling hurt, defensive, and humiliated. This started on the morning break, continued through the lunch hour, and now Friend is calling me on afternoon break in tears.
Neither of us had the time for me to console and coach her through this situation in 10 minutes or less. Tonight I suggested she dial direct first thing tomorrow and have a private chat with her coworker to explain to that her comments are hurtful and unamusing and should cease. If coworker continues, Friend should consult with her supervisor/training leader. Honestly, they are not in high school anymore. This is a professional organization training people to be competent and effective customer service reps, and really, this coworker has taken it too far and needs to be told that directly.
Except Friend had no time to do that this afternoon and was well past the point of being unemotional about it.
And here’s the part where I hate myself – I tell Friend she needs to pull herself together and get the game face on for the balance of the day. There would be time tonight to fall apart and I am happy to hold her hand and coach her through it then, but right now get it together and get back to business. Do not let some snarky little girl derail her from doing well in this job. My precise language? “I know it’s hard, but pull on your big girl panties and suck it up and deal for the rest of today. We can talk about what to do next tonight after work.”
And I truly do feel like shit, because she’s come so far, and I know she’s tough when she needs to be, but she’s still really young and does not deserve this kind of crap from anyone.
Fast forward to now, and she got through the balance of the day yet was still super upset about it. Since she now lives clear across town from us, it’s no easy thing to get together and plan for tomorrow in person. She’s calmer, she has a plan, but I know she’s still upset. Unfortunately her boyfriend is out of town in an east coast time zone, but hopefully he can walk her further back from the edge when he speaks to her tonight. I will also check in on her later to see how she’s doing.
She is doing so well and I certainly do not want to see her derailed now.
Second situation was work drama. *sigh*
My admin can be terribly high maintenance for a part-time employee. She has young children that are the absolute center of her universe, to the point that her job is a very distant second to the kids and their activities. While I applaud that from a personal and family perspective, I am paying her a wage to be in the office on a specific schedule. We are extraordinarily flexible about time off and schedules for families – which is why she is working 2 days in the office during business hours and 1 day effectively after the office is closed, for most of June and part of August, and basically 3 days in July. My bosses are super nice guys and basically tell me to either hire someone else to pick up the slack or just not worry about it, so it’s becomes essentially my problem. Until it’s not, and the boss is unhappy, then it becomes my problem to resolve with her.
Her daughter is part of some dance performance on Friday, and she has known for several months that we have a very big deal day of meetings and whatnot and that she MUST be in the office that day to man the phones and front desk, etc. When she told me this morning about the performance this morning and her desire to leave at 10 a.m. for it, I had to tell her no, that this other thing could not be rescheduled and she absolutely had to be present on that day. She was unhappy and trying to think of a way out of it, but when the boss told her it was all hands and she had better be present, she is in my office bawling her eyes out about the unfairness of it all and how her DD is only going to be 10 and doing this once in her entire life.
I sympathize – truly I do. But I also know that she has it really, really good and this is not the time to antagonize the owners. Selfishly I want her to do just that, because I would dearly love to hire someone else who will make showing up to work at least a professional level of priority. But I’m not that awful of a boss, so I simply told her that I was sympathetic and there was nothing I could do, so she should pull herself together and get over it. I was proud of myself; I did not say “get the f–k over it and stop acting like you are the only person in the whole damn world who loves and wants to be involved with your kids.”
If you knew this woman, you would know my restraint was truly admirable.
It is still exhausting. Because my boss and his partner are like little kids who must be coddled when big, scary, exciting prospects are on the horizon, and the last month has been a lot of hand-holding and reassurance and gathering of paperwork and making plans and arrangements – all on the hush-hush from the staff.
She chooses to not understand. She chose to have the equivalent of a temper tantrum after our conversation and pleading her case with an unsympathetic boss and I had to sit her down and have a much stronger-worded, supervisor-to-staff conversation with her about what will likely happen if she continues this attitude this particular week. Is she really willing to flush 20+ years, a truly great hourly rate, and supreme overall flexibility for one day that she cannot take off? Because honestly, I was at that fed-up point. I do not make threats; if she pushed it further I had the full power and authority to fire her, yet because I knew the bosses would regret it later I did not want it to come to that. Thankfully she came to her senses and stayed calm and quiet in her office the balance of the day.
Nights like tonight I wish I drank alcohol or utilized recreational stimulants. The best I can do is a girl scout cookie from the freezer. I think I will have 2 – it’s been a rough day.