I know a man who is a boss. Not a Big Boss and not a very bossy boss. But he does have a title on his door and an oriental rug on his floor, and he takes his job very personally. Which is, of course, the problem.
You see, when this boss was in business school he assumed that management was a question of profits and losses. Now he finds himself spending a great deal of time worrying about the cost-accounting of personnel problems. Personal personnel problems.
Moreover, he says, its going around. He keeps reading articles about "corporate irresposibility" toward private lives. He hears how often business plays the heavy in family crises. But from where he's sitting - in a corner office looking down on the rest of the city - he sees something else.
He sees employees who want to be treated strictly professionally one moment and then personally the next moment. He sees the conflicts faced by his employees, but also the conflicts of being a boss. He is often in a no-win situation.
The boss had three stories to tell me. The first was about his secretary. Last January when he interviewed her, he was warned by the personnel office to keep the questions strictly professional. On pain of law suit, he could not quiz her in her marital status or child care. So, he stuck to the facts, just the facts - steno and typing and work experience.
Then, last month when one of her children was home sick, he was expected to understand why she had to be home. He saw the situation this way: One month he wasn't allowed to ask if she had children, the next month he was supposed to care that they were sick.
Then, there was the junior executive he wanted to promote. The man was clearly ambitious and good. The boss had judged him on the basis of his work; he'd groomed him and watched him. Then, he'd handed him a big promotion to the Southwest. But the junior executive asked to be excused. He didn't want to make the trip, because he just couldn't move his family at that time. But, said the boss, the man had never described himself as immovable on account of teenage children. Now, the boss was asked to make allowances.
The third story was actually somewhat ironic, because it happened in the personnel department itself. The assistant director of personnel was a man who administered the most careful, scientific, professional testing service that the boss had ever seen. It screened people in and out of the company, up and down the hierarchy, on the basis of multiple-choice answers.
But now that man himself had just gotten custody of two small children. He had come in to ask for flexible hours. Under the circumstances, he could make some special arrangements that would help his personal life.
This particular boss isn't a Simon Legree. Nor is he the sort of man who treats people like interchangeable plastic parts. So, he adjusted to his secretary. He adjusted to his junior executive. He adjusted to the assistant director of personnel. He did it because, well, a happy employee is probably a productive employee and all that.
He did it because a person's private life is a factor in his professional life and all that. He did it because he believed that business should be more flexible. To a point.
But he feels a certain frustration. People want him to treat them professionally when it's to their advantage and personnaly when it's to their advantage. While he understands the family-business conflict, he also understands the conflict that comes with the title on the door and oriental rug on the floor.
Every day this boss has to decide at what point the best personal interests of his employees conflict with the bwst business interests of his company. Where is it writ, he asks, that business increasingly has to deal with personal personnel issues? How do you balance the needs of the company and the needs of the workers?
Sometimes this man is afraid that he's running a family agency instead of a corporate division. Other times he's afraid he's being a heel.
The boss doesn't expect any sympathy. He doesn't want his name in the paper. People don't sympathize with bosses anyway, he says, because it's hard to sympathize with someone who has the power to hire and fire you. He understands that.
But the fact is that he's responsible for 150 lives and one corporate balance sheet. And he takes both of those jobs very personally.