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They Did All Of That For Just An Intern?

March 24, 2016

Alex had just started as an intern for a small financial investment firm in Lacey, Washington. His boss, the company founder, Penelope took him to lunch shortly after he started.

So tell me Andrew, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a runner. I never ran in high school, but during college, I found I really enjoy it.

 Are you any good?

Well. . .yeah, actually. My times were good enough to qualify me for Nationals this summer.

Are you going to go?

Nah. I mean, it’s time to move on, right? I’ve got a job now. I don’t have time for that.

What would you do, if you were Penelope? He’s a smart kid. He’s also an intern in your small 4 person company. Penelope’s decision helped set the course of Alex’s life. 

I’m not sharing any earth-shattering news when I tell you that your employees have lives. They have families, hobbies, passions, dogs. In fact, as much as we would often like to think the opposite, your employees show up to work so that they can fund their rest of their lifestyle. 

The workforce is less like Steve Jobs who took $1/year in salary while at Apple, and more like . . .well, everyone else; who, as much as they might love their job, would quit tomorrow if they won the lottery. As “the boss” you have a responsibility to your employees. You need to be the one to give them the flexibility to live their lives. 

Now, we all have to focus on getting the work done, but at the end of the day, you can control whether your employees feel their work is something that helps them enjoy the rest of your life or not. And it’s not hard. And it doesn’t take a lot of money. 

It’s easy when an employee has an actual crisis, to play the good boss. Your employee’s grandmother passed away, so you give them unscheduled time off to attend the funeral. Your employee has a child in the hospital, you encourage them to “take as much time as you need” to be there for their sick child. 

But, what about the ordinary, everyday, events that come up? Those aren’t your responsibility, right? You don’t need to make any accomodations. That’s what you have a personal time off policy for. That’s what you pay people for. 

Sure, all of that is true. And if you publish your policy , and you obey the Family and Medical Leave Act guidelines, your employees will work when they should and take their personal time off to pursue their own interests on their own time. If that’s all you do, your employees will not even consider whether you are a good boss or a bad boss in that respect. Why would they? You’re just doing what you said you would do when they were hired.

But, consider the alternative. Suppose your employee comes to you says, 

I know that there’s not a training budget for programming classes, but I really think being able to program would help me in my career. If I pay the class fee, could I work a couple Saturdays and get comp time to attend a class next week? 

The guy is a help desk agent. Why does he need to learn programming? Should you give him the time off? Should you make him take personal days? Is a comp time switch the best solution? What if you just gave him the training days?

There is no “right” answer in every case. However, the more you say “yes” in these situations, the more you build loyalty. And you also get better educated, better skilled employees. And when you interviewed him, didn’t you say you were looking for a “self-starter”? Well, here he is. Do everything you can to encourage him. 

Penelope decided that she needed to do everything she could to give Alex the opportunity to participate in what was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Alex, if you want to compete at Nationals, I think that is really important. We can arrange your work responsibilities so that you have that chance.

But, that’s going to inconvenience a lot of your other staff. 

Don’t worry about that. This is important to you and we can make it work. 

Alex, the intern went to the National Championships. He placed third in his event. His time was just half a second off the Olympic qualifying time. Neither Alex nor Penelope ever forgot it. Alex, the intern stayed with the small investment firm, eventually becoming a partner and when Penelope retired, he became the managing partner. 

Did the fact that Penelope arranged for him to be able to attend the National Championship make him a managing partner? No. He did that by being very good at his job. But, the trip to Nationals made it obvious to Alex, that this firm cared about its employees, that they cared about him, even though he was just an intern. It helped instill a sense of loyalty that stayed with him his entire career. 

Your employees have lives. Take an interest. Encourage when you can. The rewards will be measured in more than money. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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