Two-Way Em­pa­thy Thaws an Icy Re­sponse to Time Off

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sunday Briefing - By Amy Joyce

Joe Le­van­dos’s fa­ther called him in early Jan­uary to say his mother’s can­cer would prob­a­bly take her life within a cou­ple of weeks. Le­van­dos promptly asked his boss for some leave so he could be with her be­fore she died. It was granted, and off he went. He stayed off for about a month and a half, dur­ing which time she passed away.

All of his leave was ap­proved, and some of it was un­paid, Le­van­dos said.

But when he re­turned to work in mid- Fe­bru­ary, the mar­ket­ing man­ager at a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in New York thought his boss was an­gry. He ex­pressed his con­cerns in a re­cent on­line dis­cus­sion: “ Her e- mails to this de­part­ment seem meant to ex­clude me from any de­ci­sion mak­ing process that I had once been in­volved in. We used to meet once a week and that hasn’t hap­pened since I re­turned. I feel this is her back- handed way of let­ting me know how all that time off up­set her.”

I sug­gested he talk to his boss, a piece of ad­vice I of­ten give. We seem to for­get that some­times all it takes is a lit­tle com­mu­ni­ca­tion to clear things up.

An­other reader piped up and said per­haps it was Le­van­dos who wasn’t be­ing fair. He was given a lot of time off, that per­son wrote. “ You should be thank­ful that your em­ployer let you do that at all. Most wouldn’t. Be­fore you lay it on the line, give it a lit­tle time with your boss.”

You know, reader No. 2 made a lot of sense. For one thing, the stan­dard be­reave­ment leave for the death of a close fam­ily mem­ber, even in com­pa­nies with paid- leave poli­cies, is a whop­ping three days, said Kathy Al­barado, pres­i­dent of He­lios HR, a hu­man re­sources con­sult­ing firm in Re­ston. And maybe Le­van­dos hadn’t been back for long enough for his boss to see how com­mit­ted he was to the work. Fur­ther, he is the only per­son who can do his job. So if his work was not get­ting done by him, it was just not get­ting done, he told me in a fol­low- up con­ver­sa­tion.

There is still the fact that his boss okayed his leave. Is it fair for her to hold it against him? “ Some bosses are very en­light­ened and it’s sin­cere. And other peo­ple, there is a tone of re­sent­ment,” Al­barado said. “ If you need more than a week’s time, they ques­tion your work ethic, and that’s un­for­tu­nate.”

Al­though Le­van­dos dis­liked those first few days back, he did say last week, al­most a month af­ter he had re­turned, that there seems to have been a hint of a thaw. He fin­ished sev­eral projects that his boss was happy with. So per­haps reader No. 2 was right again.

And Le­van­dos has thawed a lit­tle bit, too. When he re­turned, he ex­pected a lit­tle more sym­pa­thy, so he didn’t ex­actly seem grate­ful, con­sid­er­ing how much time he got off.

He ac­knowl­edges now that he was cer­tainly lucky, com­pared with many work­ers. “ How many peo­ple could take that much time off?” he said.

Al­though three days is the stan­dard, many com­pa­nies do make ex­cep­tions. It’s just a mat­ter of what kind of ex­cep­tions will be made, Al­barado said. “ We’d like to be gen­er­ous and give peo­ple time they need to re­cover, but at some point, you do have to draw line in sand,” she said. “ Em­ploy­ers can be em­pa­thetic, but also re­al­is­tic.”

But if they agree to that leave, they should ac­cept their fate.

If an em­ployee senses that man­age­ment doesn’t feel that way, it’s prob­a­bly time to approach the su­per­vi­sor. Em­ploy­ees in Le­van­dos’s sit­u­a­tion should ex­plain that they re­al­ize their leave may have put a bur­den on the team, but re­mind the boss that the leave was ap­proved. “ Am I sens­ing there’s a prob­lem with that? If so, I’d like to get past it,” Al­barado sug­gests em­ploy­ees say in such a sit­u­a­tion.

With spring here, Le­van­dos is hop­ing the de­frost con­tin­ues.

BY ROB SHEPPERSON FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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