April 22, 2013

GUEST ROOM: Life in the Real World: Playing the Terminator

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I’m lazy. Really lazy. But I want a lot out of life. I want a huge house and a lifetime of lavish vacations. I never bothered to think about how I would get any of this because so far, my life has been a cakewalk. When I graduated, my parents gently shoved me out of the nest, but I wasn’t worried about financing my fancy lifestyle. I figured I’d just switch gears and become a shrewd businesswoman. This is the story of how I became a shrewd businesswoman:

I work in management and have a team of seven people who work under me. In the few months that we’ve worked together, I’ve gotten to know them well and it’s clear that a few of them need to be managed out of the business. One in particular puts little effort into her position. She comes in late, doesn’t hit her quotas and gossips about everything. She’s also pregnant.

Let’s call my problematic pregnant employee Patrice. Before I became Patrice’s supervisor, my manager told me to watch out for her. She said that Patrice was a terrible worker. I figured I’d write her up, tell her to get her shit together and, if all else failed, I’d fire her ass. What difference did it make to me if she lost her job? Sure, she’s pregnant, but that’s not a “get out of jail free” pass. Am I right, or am I right?

But then I got to know Patrice and let me tell you, she is the life of the (office) party. And she has the ability to be a great saleswoman. Homegirl could sell a T.V. to Helen Keller if she wanted to, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t try at all. It’s infuriating for me to watch her drag the rest of my team down.

At the company I work for, we have a four strike policy. Patrice got her third strike last month. Even knowing that she was so close to being terminated, she wasn’t putting in any effort. If I were a pregnant woman with little financial means and a boyfriend with a bad temper, I’d be very concerned with keeping my job.

Recently I had a meeting with Patrice. I told her that I understood her preoccupation considering what’s going on in her personal life but that it wasn’t a reason to slack off. If anything, it was a reason to work harder. I told her that she needed to focus and that I wanted to help but couldn’t unless she met me halfway. I told her that now was the time for her to bring it on (she didn’t get the reference). Patrice didn’t meet me halfway — strike four.

Strike four was the worst because it made me overanalyze everything.

I was worried. Worried that if I didn’t fire Patrice, my own manager would see me as weak. Worried that if I let her keep her job, I’d lose mine. But I was also worried that if I fired Patrice, her boyfriend would get angry and hit her. I was worried that she wouldn’t have enough money to pay her mortgage and her house would get foreclosed. But mostly, I was worried that if any of that happened, it would be my fault.

Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I should have trained her better or been more patient. I could have played the “Maybe Game” all day, but it wouldn’t help. The only thing I could do was step up and take responsibility. So I did.

I know it’s not nice to say, but honestly, I had been looking forward to firing Patrice. Even though the situation threw me in a moral quandary, I thought it would be nice to finally have a good team of employees under me. But then I asked Patrice into my office and I wasn’t so excited. I was anxious and, frankly, a little nauseated.

Patrice said she knew this was coming and I believed her. There were no waterworks or displays of anger. But still, I felt uneasy. I finally felt the gravity of the situation and the part I had played in it. That was when I realized that even if it was Patrice’s fault, I was the one saying: “Your employment has been terminated.” No one forced my hand. If I had really wanted to, I could have helped Patrice keep her job. I just didn’t.

They say it’s our choices that make us who we are. I believe that the choice I made is what makes me a good manager, but I’m concerned that the same choice makes me a bad person. I guess what it comes down to is that being lazy in life and indifferent to how I’m going to get that six-figure salary is a luxury I don’t have. But in my haste to outshine my peers and become the brightest crayon in this parochial box of Crayolas, I forgot about something. I forgot that it’s not just about me or my career.

Do I want to become the youngest director of sales at my company? Yes. Do I want to fire anyone that stands in my way? No. But I can’t have it both ways. I can’t fire someone without any regard for his or her circumstances, but I can’t employ bad workers because I feel sorry for them either. My job often puts me in tough situations and learning to handle them has been more difficult than I’d like to admit, but I haven’t given up yet.

Hazel Gun is a former Sun columnist who graduated in 2012. Feedback may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Hazel Gun