You Never Know What You’re Going to Get
As I was writing my last article on the failure of leaders in addressing toxic work environments, I started thinking about how many odd, funny, sweet, and bizarre stories I’ve seen in the workplace.
Apologies to my mother up front (she doesn’t like it when I swear) but I’ve seen some crazy-ass sh*t. There’s really no other way to describe it. Yesterday for no particular reason, one story popped into my head.
One snowy evening, I was working late. I wanted to give the maniac drivers a chance to get off the road before I ventured out. As I was looking out my window watching the snow crew get to work on the sidewalks and parking lot, I heard a knock at the door.
A tiny voice said, “Jan, do you have a minute.” It was an employee whom I had managed for years. Most people felt that she was quiet, unassuming, introverted, and didn’t really want to interact much with anyone. But through the years, I’d come to know her more than most of her co-workers. We’d often talk in the evenings after the others had gone home. She would share a few personal stories about her life and her family. I know that for many we often wear a mask at work that covers what lies beneath — you know, the part that we don’t show to others. She wasn’t any different.
Her voice sounded a little worried on this evening and I asked her to come in and speak. She closed the door behind her and locked it. (Okay . . . Locking the door. More than a little peculiar.) I sat up a little more in my chair. My OPSEC and Spidey Senses were starting to tune into each other.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Jan, I want to show you something.” And then she started to unbutton her shirt.
Now I’m really wondering what’s going on and again ask her if she’s okay.
“I got a boob job, Jan.” She proceeds to unbutton her shirt all of the way to show me.
I was a bit speechless. Is this some sort of joke? Am I on camera? I don’t recall what I actually said and she kept on going.
“This is why I had to take PTO.” She explained. “Look, this is the B cup but next time I am going up to a C cup.”
At this point, I am beside of myself. I’m sitting in my chair with this tiny woman in front of me showing me her boobs. Being in HR all kinds of things were running through my mind but mainly I was thinking, WTF. (Sorry, Mom) But, I gained my composure. And really, it’s only boobs, right? No big deal.
“Wow. That’s great.” (‘cause you know, I’m cool like that…)
And then she said it. “Here, Jan, touch them. They feel just like the real thing.”
“Uh, no… I’m good.” I stammered. “Yes, they look, uh, great.” Now, will you please button your shirt back up?
“Jan, my doctor is really great . . . Let me give you his info in case you want it . . . You really should, Jan.”
Hey, waaitt a second… That’s a putdown, right? Hmm…
So, I thanked her for “sharing”. Once again, I assured her (because, oddly, I could tell she needed it) they looked great and kindly asked her to put her boobs away. And, just like that she was gone and back to work.
I sat there. Bewildered. What just happened? A woman walked into my office and showed me her boobs. That was a first. And, a last. Sure, I can see girlfriends doing that but she was my employee. I wasn’t her friend.
Then it hit me.
For as odd as that was, she felt comfortable with me. She knew that I wasn’t going to judge her. She knew that I was going to support her. And, she thought of me as her friend. From what I had learned about her with our mini late-night chats, I realized she didn’t have many friends she trusted and she shared something that was obviously very important to her.
So I turned my chair around and watched the snowflakes trickle down and sparkle under the street lights while I listened to the sound of the shovels scraping the sidewalks. I thought I should pack up and get home before the roads got too bad. But, I wondered… What should my response have been? Did I say or do the right thing? Who knows? It was a strange and unexpected moment but one for the memory banks. I guess we don’t always have average conversations with our employees, do we?
Do you have any crazy work stories to share?
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