Saturday, March 26, 2011


I came across a private notebook in a pile of paper as I was organizing my office last weekend. I did not recognize the handwriting in the steno pad, so I assumed it might have been picked up in the last-minute clean-up frenzy at one of the meetings we manage. Later, I decided it must have been given to me in a pile of detritus from a desk-cleaning by someone else.

I read through the notes, trying to find an indication of to whom the notebook might belong. Finally, after I'd read through to almost the last page...there must have been fifteen or twenty pages of notes...I found evidence that it belonged to a former employee, someone I'd fired.

The notes told the story of someone who was trying very, very hard to perform well in her job, but who was experiencing some very tough relationship challenges in her personal life. Many of the notes were short self-affirmation statements, telling the writer that she was a good person and that she could successfully get through the trouble she was going through. But it was clear from reading the notes, and now on reflection, that she her relationship problems were having an enormous impact on her ability to cope, both at home and at work.

I fired her for performance issues that were exacerbated by attitude. When I expressed concern about her performance, again, she reacted by saying she didn't like working for me and that she was looking for a job and would tell me when she found one. That was not the right response to have with me, especially after the considerable performance issues; so I fired her.

In retrospect, having now read the notes, I think I might have encouraged her to open up about what might be causing her performance issues. Many of them really were related to attitude; she didn't like following the processes I'd established, didn't think the rules applied to her, complained that no one appreciated the hours she spent on the job, and did not get along with other employees. But maybe all those issues were related to those personal relationship challenges. She's not a bad person and she was very bright. She had a lot of potential.

Maybe if I'd invested more time in her, and had overlooked the fact that I found her personally not very likable, she could have turned things around on the job. I guess I will never know. But it makes me remember that, sometimes, people can be privately dealing with pretty ugly stuff that can affect the way they behave. I, of all people, should know this.


TaraDharma said...

in my experience, the personal affects the professional and vise versa. Profoundly. Wish it weren't so...but I can't compartmentalize and some people can. They are more successful at work, but I'm not sure how emotionally healthy they are. My estranged wife loves to work long hours when she's experiencing personal problems, because then she doesn't think about the personal. Not my style.

Oh well. Different strokes for different folks. I think you did what you had to do, and how were you to know about her personal issues? Her response to you was very hostile, and certainly not any way I would allow myself to respond to a supervisor or boss.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Wow, what an interesting glimpse into someone else's brain.....

Don't beat yourself up, Mr. Kneeblood. She *worked* for you. And uneffectively so. She should have gone to you with her personal problems if she felt they were impairing her performance; you certainly are not responsible for reading her mind.

You did the right thing.