Recently I was visiting my technicians in the field at various locations around the city when I came upon a technician in a t-shirt. Although it was a company branded t-shirt, we require a collared company branded shirt during working hours, except for special events or volunteering activities. Now, I didn’t address this issue right away. To be honest, my intentions for these site visits are first and foremost the health and safety of the technicians, and secondarily, the assessment of their skillset for development opportunities. So, I asked them how their day was going, checked the worksite for any hazards, and helped finish the work.
As we were cleaning up the site and putting away their tools, I asked them about their choice in uniform today. I told them that they are usually one of the most properly dressed techs in the company, so this was very surprising to find them in a t-shirt today. They apologized profusely and said that they didn’t have any clean shirts because they haven’t been able to make it to the laundromat.
Obviously, this situation needed correction, but I knew details about my technician that necessitated empathy. I knew that their living situation was not the most stable. I knew that this technician travels out of state every weekend to care for their ailing relative. I also knew that this technician was working in a stand-by capacity that week and that any free time this week would be spent resting. With those factors involved, I found it plausible that they could not find the time to do their laundry.
I told them that I understood about the things going on in their life and that they can wear their t-shirt today. I also gave him an early out to take care of his laundry and get some rest. I closed the conversation by saying that going forward the expectation would be for them to be in the proper uniform every work day, not only because it is the policy, but more so because they are a great technician who is looked up to by their peers, and I wouldn’t want anything to detract from that.
I understand that my reaction may run counterintuitive to my belief in standards. However, had I not taken the time to understand the things going on in this technician’s life, I would have never been able to deduce that their transgression was a function of a larger situation within their life. Without empathy, I may have come down hard on them, issued corrective action, and ultimately contributed to their personal hardships and mental anguish. That type of action is what turns a great employee into a former employee.
What do you think? Some of my peers believe I am being too lenient. Knowing what I knew about this technician’s personal struggles, how would you have handled this situation?