A Story About Setting Boundaries

Today, while walking my dog Buddy in front of the post office, I was approached by a friendly older man named Tom, who had eyes only for Buddy. It was clear he loved dogs. After several moments of dog talk, he began sharing his story. Several years earlier his long-time dear friend, a Maltese named Snappy, died unexpectedly. He was devastated and shared that he couldn’t go back to work right away. That he just needed some time – a week or two – to cope with the shock and loss of Snappy. His mind wasn’t able to focus, and he knew he wasn’t himself. Tom felt he could not safely return to his work as an electrician, and firmly believed he would likely have an accident and get electrocuted if he returned right away.

So he did what any of us would do. He asked his long-time employer of 11 years for a little time to grieve and recover. With a mix of sadness and disbelief, Tom shared that they refused to give him any time, and urged him to return to work on Monday. Tom realized if he did, he would be putting his life at risk. He decided the only course of action left was to quit his $85k job. That was several years ago. Though frustrated that it happened, looking back, he knows it was the right decision. He listened to himself and chose his own well-being.

This was a decision of ultimate self-care and wise boundaries – he knew and honored his limit – which very likely saved his life.

One of my passions, besides travel, is employee wellbeing. Despite a growing body of compelling research demonstrating numerous benefits to organizations that value their employees’ wellbeing, this organization chose the “drive them hard” and “wring them dry” management philosophy. Tom shared with me that employees at this company also were not allowed to take their two-week-only yearly vacations in week increments, only 3-4 days at a time. It was difficult to hear that notable organizations in the U.S. are still upholding these inhumane practices.

What conclusions can we likely make about this organization?

  • It is clear through such practices/policies that it does not value its employees overall, and especially their well-being,
  • It has a short-sighted mentality,
  • Decisions are clearly not informed by science and evidence-based data. They are driven by fear, opinion, and a bottom-line focus,
  • It is not retaining its top talent with such practices,

I was touched by Tom’s story and courage, and grateful our paths crossed. When he heard I often consulted with organizations in the area of employee wellbeing, he thanked me and sadly expressed how greatly needed it is.

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