Feigning Interest in Their Lives

As a people manager, you can’t help but get caught up in employees’ personal lives sometimes. I do care about what’s happening with my staff and personal troubles bleed into work life some days. But there are some personal things I just don’t care about or really don’t want to know. There are also stories that leave me trying my best not to laugh.

One such story came to mind recently out of a plethora of tales from one employee I will call Teresa. She was an odd duck from day one. Bad social skills, strange customer service skills and weird life problems.

I answered our internal work line one day to find a sobbing Teresa on the other end. My first thought was, ‘Crap, what happened?’ I’ve certainly known employees who’ve had nasty things happen to them over the years.

Then Teresa blurted out, “A cat attacked my dog!”

Not what I was expecting.

Teresa proceeded to bawl out the story of walking her apparently wussy dog down the street. A neighbourhood cat came out of nowhere and beat the snot out of the dog.

I tried to sound understanding, really I did. I am an animal lover and wouldn’t want to hear of harm coming to any four-legged, fuzzy creature. I also don’t enjoy having employees in distress. But it became obvious quickly that no real harm had come to the dog. He had some scratches and cuts, but the vet had pronounced him mostly healthy. I couldn’t figure out why Teresa was still screaming over the incident.

I made some sympathetic noises then got off the phone as fast as I could, because I just couldn’t hold the laughter anymore. How on earth did one wily cat overtake both a dog and a human? She was standing right there. If she screamed at the cat the way she screamed at me, Teresa should have scared the bejeesus out of it.

She came back to work the next day acting normal. At least as normal as she ever got. I asked for a pet update and continued to act as though I cared.

As a manager I sometimes feel like I am part psychologist. I could have pointed out that the incident wasn’t really worth sobbing and screaming over, but some days I just find it’s best to feign interest. Anything else really isn’t worth the aggravation.


3 thoughts on “Feigning Interest in Their Lives

  1. I have read a few of your posts just now on how to manage people. You sure encountered some funny employees. What I am left wondering is, with all the sore economic news on unemployment, why is it that HR cannot find better people from the big pool of unemployed people? I really cannot figure this one out.

    • Most of my crazy stories come from my call centre days, and call centres are tough places to work. They always have high turnover and struggle to find good employees. With most companies, the job is crap. The pay isn’t good, it’s shift work, you are tied to your phone all shift and monitored all day. Add to that clients being quite rude a lot of the time, and you can see why they struggle. My call centres also needed bilingual (french) employees, a hard skill to come by, and one you cannot teach on the job. We’d take just about anything breathing that could speak french. As to the oddles of employees looking for work, most are too smart to work in a call centre and some are unemployed because they are just like the employees I’ve described. Also, some employees start out well and then things go bad. It can be a little hard to get them out the door sometimes. Thanks for the comment!

      • The bilingual bit explains why you got that bunch when you were manager.
        Though call center jobs suck it is good to know that there is at least some place where people have a higher chance of getting some form of employment. But I do not think that is true for every area. Like finding vacant call center jobs in the California Bay Area is quite tough. Anyway, I understand what you are trying to say.

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