10 February 2014

Drawing the line between corporate and personal life

Imagine these scenarios which aren't quite described in the employee handbook:

It's a miserable rainy morning, and you hear the manager in the cubicle next to you talking to a child. You peek over the partition, and she has her daughter with her. "I couldn't find a baby sitter," she explains sheepishly. "My daughter won't be a problem." The child is quiet at first, but is soon bored and doesn't understand why her mother can't pay much attention to her. 

There are screams and squeals from a knot of people around one of the programmers. It turns out he's brought his pet rat to work, and some of the girls are afraid of it. "Don't worry," he says. "My pet has a cage and won't run loose." The rat goes back into a little plastic carrier, but he's certainly the centre of attention all day as people stop by to watch the rat and chat.

If you are a small business owner, you can set the rules. At one company I worked for, both founders had young children and often brought them to the office in between running errands, where they posed no disruptions. In another company, the founder's dog is an honorary employee, and is much loved by the team. In a larger organisation, the rules may be stricter. 

"All the above are examples of crossing the line between the private and the professional, and should not be done without explicit approval. We should be flexible but professional. I think the company needs to be able to value employees as a whole, including as a parent or a spouse and so on," said “CT”*, a Senior HR practitioner who has more than 20 years’ experience both in the private and public sector.

The best route for the employee, said CT, is to request emergency leave. "It's clear that employees cannot focus on their work if their private lives are not settled. If there is a personal emergency, the employee should take leave to settle the issue. Bringing the private issue into the office is not to be encouraged, as this could lead to resentment from others who feel that their circumstances should merit the same considerations," she explained.

Exceptions are corporate events like Family Day, or a Dinner & Dance where the spouse is invited, CT said. "Other than such occasions, the employee is crossing the line. As there is no end to the variations and exceptions that can occur, organisations should not allow such behaviour."

*Not her real name

*CT is available for private consultations