Lynne Curry: Focus on caring co-workers, not your own misery

THE WORKPLACENovember 10, 2013 

CLARK JAMES MISHLER

Q. I should have stayed home from work yesterday morning. I'd had a horrible talk with my teen daughter that tore my heart open, but I knew if I stayed home I'd only cry all day, so I went to work.

I thought I'd be able to hold it together and just focus on work, but my eyes kept tearing up. One employee after another asked, "Are you OK?" Then when everyone gathered for a staff meeting, I flashed on something my daughter had said and tears flooded my eyes. I couldn't compose myself. Before I knew it I was telling everyone a one-minute version of what had happened. I was embarrassed but stunned when several comfortingly said, "Been there, done that."

I went home soon after. I'm at work today, but can't imagine doing my normal "walk through" of the department. I feel I need to apologize -- my employees have never seen me like that. How do I handle this?

A. You don't need to apologize. Instead, thank each employee who reached out to you.

We think it's all about us when we display vulnerability, but it isn't. Focus on your co-workers' kindness and extend it to yourself. We allow others to be human and value others being real with us. We can't stand, however, being open with others when it reveals our imperfections.

It takes courage to admit you don't have a perfect home life. Guess what? No one does. What can you do? Stop judging yourself for being seen for what you are and use what happened to deepen your empathy for others. And then pay it forward.

Q. One of our employees let us know planned to move to another state. Before he left, he also sent "goodbye" emails to all our clients, providing his cell number and asking that they "stay in touch."

Several clients called us, asking, "What's up?"

We asked the employee what he was doing and why, because it appeared he was sending personal emails to clients rather than completing assigned projects for us.

When he asked, "What do you mean?" we showed him one of the emails. "Oh that," he said. "Just letting clients know how much they'd meant to me."

When we reminded him of our agreement that he wouldn't solicit business from our clients, he smirked and said, "But I wouldn't be soliciting, would I, if they call me first."

We paid him for a final week and asked him to leave. What do we do now?

A. Document everything and make a ghost copy of his computer for evidence in case you need it. Stay in touch with the clients this individual contacted. If you learn he's doing business with them, contact an attorney.

You may be relieved to learn this employee's in for a surprise if he thinks his "they called me" works after his personal "keep in touch" emails.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently ruled on your former employee's argument that he isn't soliciting clients if they call him first.

According to the court, employers have a right to enforce valid non-solicitation agreements. This "right cannot be thwarted by easy evasions, such as piquing customers' curiosity and inciting them to make the initial contact with the employee's new firm."

In this recent case, Corporate Technologies, Inc. v. Brian Harnett and OnX USA, LLC, the court noted that clients only contacted the former employee after receiving an email announcing his new location. According to the court, "Initial contact can easily be manipulated -- say, by a targeted announcement that piques customers' curiosity thus depriving the employer of its bargained-for protection."

According to the ruling, many reasons lead to a client making initial contact, from saying farewell to calling to ask whether the employee left voluntarily or was fired. Whatever the situation, the court said, the employer is entitled to its "bargained-for protection," and courts must reject the temptation to end their assessment of a former employee's solicitation based on "who called whom first?"

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management-employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com. You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com.

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