Back in the 70’s, women entered the workplace at a cost. They didn’t dare acknowledge that they had spouses, children or any personal life, period. Today, many companies “permit” a personal life, but has the price simply been adjusted to current times?
Thankfully, legislation has been passed so that various accommodations can be made to allow for personal circumstances, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Maternity and Paternity Leave, and so on. It’s also now illegal for an employer to ask questions regarding one’s age, marital, parental, pregnancy or other medical status during a job interview. This wasn’t always the case.
This doesn’t mean that discrimination regarding such factors has been eliminated, however. Many instances can be seen as having gone underground or simply operating at a more covert, understated level.
Some employers now take various personal circumstances of their employees into account and/or allow employees to telecommute if their positions don’t require a constant office presence. They may also offer flexible time to parents to attend their children’s various school functions, or make some other physical or medical accommodations as well.
Too often, however, the implication from the employer ends up being, “Do you know how lucky you are to be here?” Regardless of the quality of the employee’s performance – or amount of hours worked – feedback can create an environment that makes employees feel that they have essentially opted out of a career if they choose to pursue anything that gives them personal pleasure or medical relief.
Omar* discovered soon after starting a new job that he needed surgery, and would be out of the office for at least a month afterward. He hated to begin on such terms, but there really was no other choice. To make matters worse, his six month probationary period wasn’t done, and he hadn’t yet accumulated enough vacation days to cover his absence – or to earn medical leave. Technically, he was required to take a month off without pay, which would be financially devastating.
He was pleased to discover that his new CEO was willing to let him earn a negative balance of sick leave instead, and pay him his salary while he was out, and felt that this was generous. Omar was determined to return earlier than the estimated month and begin immediately making up the time.
Although he did need the full month’s recovery after all, Omar began working diligently to make up the time. The CEO decided that merely ”additional hours” weren’t enough to make up the balance, but segments of additional four hour time blocks would be allowed as payback. This meant that Omar either had to work twelve hour days or weekends – which he did . . . for nearly a year, and paid it all back.
Later, at a staff retreat, when each person was encouraged to share what accomplishment they were most proud of, Omar was shocked when his director cited “enduring” his absence, and realized that, apparently, he would never be able to compensate in the eyes of management.
Phyllis* enjoyed coaching a team, and her director allowed her to leave a couple of hours early during the season she was coaching. In her marketing position, she often managed events during evenings and weekends, and there was no question that she did her job and worked at least as many hours as any other staff member each week.
After a couple of years of successfully managing her events and other duties in her position, however, she brought up the topics of her title, salary, etc. during her annual review. Phyllis felt that further recognition and compensation was due, given her excellent track record.
Her director’s response began with implying that she should be grateful for the perks she enjoyed – such as being allowed to have a schedule that accommodates her coaching – and suggested that she would never get such an arrangement any place else.
Phyllis resented his changing the subject from her performance and the implied blackmail of her losing something important to her, and returned to the topic at hand, reminding him how long it had been since she had gotten a raise or promotion, repeating details of her accomplishments.
Her director then informed her that the budget wouldn’t allow for increases at the current time . . . unless she could bring him a competing job offer! Then, he told her, he would have grounds to offer her a salary increase in order to keep her on board.
“I was so stunned,” Phyllis told me, “I couldn’t believe it! Why would a company encourage workers to look elsewhere? And why would I then accept their minor increase if I have another, better offer?!”
Events turned quickly after that, and the team that Phyllis volunteered for was losing its coach, who was relocating. The departing coach was happy to recommend Phyllis for the position. She was able to Fix It! by leaving the environment that tried to hold her hostage and follow her passion instead.
Roxanne* was a single mom without a college degree who got hired with an organization that let her use her sick days when her child was sick, and was pretty liberal about her time off for school events. She felt lucky to have gotten the position.
After a couple of years of successful performance with the company, a position in Roxanne’s department opened up one level higher. She was very qualified for the job, since she had worked with the outgoing staff member on various projects and was already familiar with the company, its mission, etc.
She was taken aback at the department head’s response when she mentioned her intention of applying for the position: “Oh, you wouldn’t want that job,” he told her. When she pressed him for the reasons why not, he went on to explain: “You need to decide what you want, what your career goals are.”
“I took that to mean that I should decide between my job and my child,” Roxanne said, “And that even if I did apply, he had no intention of hiring me!”
Roxanne decided to Forget It! with regard to applying for the position . . . and ended up providing most of the training for the person that was hired in the position above hers.
“Although the situation makes me angry,” she says, “This is what I need to do for my circumstances at this time.”
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown