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Just how much understanding is realistic?

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
Voice message: “The car broke  down and I had to take the dog to the vets. There was only one vet on duty so I had to wait ages to be seen. Dexter’s in a bad way they say he may need an operation. Mean while the school rang to say the youngest , who had been been complaining of stomach-ache and refused breakfast , had severe diarrhoea .  I wouldn’t normally have sent him only I needed to take the dog to the vets and I knew he had a spelling test this morning which he was dreading so I thought he was just trying to get out of it. The school said they had tried to get hold of my partner but they couldn’t get an answer.
Of course I would have rang earlier to let you know but I spent so much time on the phone trying to get through to the doctors to get an appointment for the middle one, you know the one who keeps fainting and has had all those tests, that the battery in my phone just died. It’s not been a good week what with the burst pipe, and the dog being attacked by the neighbours dog. The same neighbours who keeps parking their car in front of our house and blocking my car in. I went round to complain and get them to move it. I banged on the door till my fist was sore but no one answered and I know they were in I saw the front bedroom curtains twitch. He’s on nights so I know he’s at home in the day. Any way all being well I will be in tomorrow.
Sorry this is such a long voice message.”
This is not the first time this employee with the chaotic life style and the elaborate excuses has failed to turn up for work. How far should your sympathy stretch? Always convincing, always apologetic and when at work good at what they do. After all they can’t help a child being ill, the dog needing emergency treatment,  having to wait in for the emergency plumber, the problems in the NHS or the neighbour being deliberately awkward.
This type of scenario  is bread and butter to HR but managers are surprisingly poor at getting the balance right between being a sympathetic and supportive manager and setting clear expectations and confronting unacceptable behaviour. Either they avoid confrontation altogether with disastrous consequences for performance and team morale or they express total disinterest in an employees life out side work, show no flexibility and make threats as in “ if this happens again….With the result that the employee submits a grievance. Evidence if it were needed that managers need training in the difficult role of people management and an argument for keeping HR in-house.

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