Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sometimes It Sucks to Be the Boss

Sometimes being a manager or leader sucks. Many of us come up through the ranks and along the way we find people who we work very well with. Before we are in positions of power, we might collaborate with people who hold a similar philosophical perspective. In fact, many of us work so well with certain people that we begin to see them as part of our team. There's nothing really wrong with that, but it might become a problem when one of the team becomes a manager.

I've had two colleagues who over the years I have grown to view as my partners. We all taught together in the same schools, became academic coaches and co-trainers together, and had each other's back when the going was tough. We stood together when we protested something that we were in disagreement with. We got our masters degree together, studied together, and mentored one another. Every step of the way in my career they have always been there.

When I became a manager over two and a half years ago, I was dragged through the mud and had to fight an uphill battle against numerous co-workers, including some people who had previously been my mentors and colleagues. My two partners, however, cheered me on throughout the assassinations on my character and deliberate acts committed by others in order to derail any progress that I was making. When one of my employees stripped the computers and files of all important documents, powerpoints, etc before she went out on an extended sick leave, my three partners helped me "save face" by coming in to work on a Saturday in order to try to salvage what had been erased. They spent hours and hours of their free time by helping me recreate the documents when they could not be recovered.

The other day I told my boyfriend, "You really know who your friends are when you become successful".

He said, "No, it's the opposite. You really know who your friends are when they stick by you when you are down and out. Everybody wants to become your friend and kiss your ass when you are successful".

I see his point, but I think that mine is equally as valid. Sure, it's a true test of friendship when people stand by you when the going gets tough, but it is also takes a secure friend to stand by you when you achieve success because many people are jealous and try to tear you down when you achieve success. If a friend stands by you when you are down and out, as well as when you are at the height of success-that's the mark of a loyal friendship.

As leaders we are often told that we need to get the "right people on the bus" and make sure that we have people on our team who are consistent with our goals and objectives. So it makes sense that as a new manager I would logically hire two of my previous partners as my employees when they applied for the job.

I didn't hire them because of my friendship with me. I don't necessarily consider them to be friends in the conventional sense of the word, because our relationship was more based on being colleagues than anything personal. I hired them because at the time they were honestly the only two people who understood my goals and vision and would be able to carry it out. They were far more qualified than anyone who applied for the job.

Over the past two and a half years, everything has been going well. They have handled it quite well that while I was once their equal, I am now their boss. I can't say the same for my previous employee who stripped me of all the necessary information-we used to be equals and she could not handle that I was suddenly her superior. My two partners (and now employees) have always showed respect for my position and have never expected any special treatment or favors. This is why I value them so much.

But now I have a dilemma and I don't know how to deal with it.

About a year ago, one of my employees had a baby. I knew as soon as she came back that she was suffering from postpartum depression and urged her to get help, but she refused to listen. Six months ago she finally went on medication, but it seems that she is getting progressively worse and spiraling out of control.

Over the past couple of months, she has continuously called in sick, arrives late at work, doesn't finish assignments, and loses her temper with other employees. She has started to fight with my other male employee, putting him down and raising her voice at him in front of other people and his subordinates.

I have talked with her a couple of times about her behavior and she has cried and said that she is trying to get better. I have listened to her and tried to work around her schedule because she has made comments that maybe she should just go back to the classroom and teach again because she can't handle the stress of the job.

Over the years she has stood beside me as we have climbed the ladder and tried to smash the glass ceiling to pieces. She has taken bullets from some of my political enemies, being targeted by a few people only because she was my partner and they had issues with me. She has worked overtime to make me look good, and move forward the agenda that the three of us have together.

Maybe I have been to soft on her by trying to accommodate her schedule and work around her family issues. Maybe I have made excuses for her for a bit too long. My male boss tells me that I need to call her in, lay down the law, and write her up. But it's hard to take his advice seriously, because he is a male manager. As a female I just can't get the idea out of my mind that she is suffering from depression and having a hard time with having a second child.

Today she didn't come in to work and didn't contact me until 3:30 p.m. to tell me that her son was sick. No one noticed that she was out and had just assumed that she was out and about somewhere. Yet the writing is clearly on the wall that she is starting to lose control of herself.

I know now that I need to call her in and have a serious discussion with her. I just don't know what to say that hasn't already been said. What do you say to someone with depression? What do you say to someone who feels that they can't handle their second child and are not getting any help from their husband?

All I know is that her problems are now starting to affect other people and their job performance, including myself. So this is where I have to draw the line.


Mab said...

Being hard on someone sometimes is the only thing it may take for her to realise her situation is seriously. I know depression - you have to want to get better and sometimes people helping you can just be enabling.

Wicked Bitch, Latina Fatale said...

That's sort of what I was thinking-that I am sort of being an enabler.

Della Lee said...

You said she wasn't a "friend" but more of a "colleague." You are reacting as a friend would, but you need to discover what is keeping you from treating her like the colleague she is. The workplace is not the place for her depression issues. If she cannot be medicated sufficiently to be able to function again, you must let her go. Otherwise, the whole workgroup will begin to disrespect you. So sorry you have to go through this.

NancyP said...

You could strongly recommend that she seek out a psychiatrist familiar with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression has a wide range of intensity, and the most severe cases need hospitalization or closely watched outpatient treatment.

If she has had any thoughts about suicide or about injuring herself or another person, she needs to seen immediately (as in, go that day to an office or the emergency room) for evaluation, and she needs a number of a crisis / suicide hot-line.

If she has (clinically defined) major depression involving a protracted period of time (3 to 6 weeks) and exhibiting multiple symptoms such as weight loss or gain, changes in sleep habits (difficult to measure in mothers of new infants), crying jags, irritability or imperviousness to environment, and so on - she may benefit from antidepressant medication and counseling. The right medication can clear the worst of the depressive thought patterns sufficiently so the patient can function. Medication does generally take 3 to 6 weeks to take effect, or not take effect.

Postpartum depression that recurs in subsequent pregnancies tends to be more severe.

Lady Julia said...

Do you have some type of Employee Assistance Program at your place of employment? If so, perhaps you might check with your HR to see if you can require her to seek help as a condition for retaining her position.

Someone with a mental illness has the same legal rights (and responsibilities) as someone with a physical illness. She's always entitled to 12 weeks leave under the Family Medical Leave Act presuming your company has (I think) 50 or more employees. She definitely sounds as if she is overwhelmed and could use the leave. It's not enabling (IMO) to help someone who is ill. Her physician could recommend a leave (and different meds) so that she can recuperate. Sometimes one type of anti-depressant doesn't work when another one will. Sometimes they need to add an additional drug to potentiate the effects of the anti-depressant (abilify for example).

Clinical depression is not a choice or something people have because they don't want to "get better". It's an illness that requires appropriate treatment. Meds, therapy, rest, etc.

Wicked Bitch, Latina Fatale said...

Thanks everyone for your feedback! I did talk with her today and I think that she sees the severity of her situation. She told me that she is glad for the reality check. My instincts tell me though that this is still not over.

Even if she doesn't get better, there is little that I can do, really. She has a very strong union and once people in her position get tenure there is very little that anyone can go unless people are documented for years.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

I am not able to add anything useful on top of the excellent advice you have received. (Your readers, sans me, are awesome!) I hate confrontations and I don't think I will ever be able to become anybody's boss successfully. I am chiming in to offer my moral support. Sorry you have to make tough decisions... As for her husband not helping... If the second income for the house is on the line, I certainly hope he gets his act together. Fast.

Meg at Demanding Joy said...

This is a crap situation for you - I'm so sorry. I'm glad that you've been honest with her. The best managers I've ever had are the ones who aren't afraid to give me the unpleasant truth about something, even if I don't want to hear it (and even if I needed to be hit over the head with it). Hopefully, your straight forward approach will be the kick in the butt she needs to ask for help before things get completely out of control for her. I wish the best of luck to you both.