Monday, April 5, 2010

Goodbye Again

I knew it would be difficult; I knew there would be casualties. And I paid lip service (or pen service?) to all that a couple of months ago.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any easier to deal with when it happens.

Another of my long-term employees gave her notice on Saturday. I was kind of blindsided by the whole thing; especially since, not three weeks ago, she had sent me an impassioned email about how much she loved working at the café and how she felt like it was home and that she just wanted to work, so I needed to give her x-number of hours every week. So I was a little unprepared for the "I love working here, give me more hours, I quit" progression of events.

I suppose I should not have been surprised. When an employee is stressing out about the job enough to fire off unsolicited emails, you have to guess something is up. It's safe to assume they are not getting what they want, and, in all probability, what they want is not within my power to give. I'll remember that for next time, I guess.

Still, I can't help but wish there was an open line of communication between myself and my employees, so they would not be afraid to let me know when something is bothering them. I try not to act like the Wicked Witch of the West; I try to be understanding, try to be fair; I try to encourage and praise good performance as well as point out failure. Unfortunately, I've learned a few things about human nature. First of all, "fairness" is in the mind of the beholder. If I go out of my way to accommodate YOU, I'm being "fair." If I do that for another employee, it's "favoritism." Secondly, human beings are, apparently, deaf to compliments and hyper-sensitive to the sound of anything even slightly smacking of criticism. So there's almost no point in even bothering to praise. They don't hear it.

If I worked at it, I think I could set myself up to be considered a "friend" to all these young people. But I'm afraid that would involve abandoning any effort to improve or critique anyone's performance. And I'd have to take on the role of "Scheduling Fairy," accommodating their every request ("I need more hours, I can't work THOSE hours, I can't work with so-and-so, I need to take two weeks off starting tomorrow") with a placid smile on my face and a consoling pat on the back.

Sorry. I need to be in charge, need to be able to tell them what to do. Need to tell them when they screw up. Need to try to get them to adhere to my standards, which aren't impossibly high, by any means. So I cannot
be their friend.
Because then I would have no control at all. I have little enough as it is.

They say "It's lonely at the top." I couldn't agree more. The thing of which I am on top may not be huge or glamorous, or even particularly high. But it does consume most of my life force. So I keenly feel the isolation of spending seventy hours a week working elbow-to-elbow with people who are not—who cannot be—my friends. And because they are not my friends, it's inappropriate for me to feel sad and betrayed when they exercise their freedom and choose to move on.

Inappropriate. Yes. But there it is. To not acknowledge that I DO feel sad and betrayed would be like trying to ignore the elephant clinging to my back. But I cannot let that elephant flatten me. I have to peel it off, put it on the ground, pat it on the head and keep walking.

So, good luck to my dear departing employee. I hope you find what makes you happy at your new job.


Cynthia said...

Not being able to befriend your employees is one of the hardest things about being the boss, but that line is always there. You have to have leadership and accountability, and friendship requires equality and tolerance. I was lucky enough to become close friends with a former boss while we were working together, but it was an exceptionally tricky balancing act. There were times we both took advantage of each other professionally because of the friendship, and sometimes the friendship created an exeptionally productive working relationship. But we both recognized the challenges and respected the lines. I honestly don't know any other circumstances where it's worked. Good luck finding a new employee, and a comparatively deep reservoir of potentials.

alphawoman said...

People do need to be complimented, believe me.