A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Coach Colene: ‘Pulling a Linda’ — What employers (and employees) can learn from a resignation

By Colene Elridge
Special to KyForward

My friend Linda is smart, thoughtful and dedicated to anything she sets out to do. She resolves other people’s conflicts… literally.

For nearly 15 years, she worked to create a nationally recognized workplace-conflict-resolution program. She saved her organization hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars by solving workplace issues before they reached the lawsuit level. She’s passionate about using tools and resources to solve conflict rather than using the legal system, which has served her and her organization well.

On a Friday, Linda packed up her office items, and wrote the following handwritten note:

“Dear [insert boss name], I can no longer be a part of an organization for which I have no respect. Here is the information you requested.” She signed her name walked out of her office and didn’t return.

How did we go from an exemplary employee to a walk-out?

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me give you a little back story on how we got to this point. Linda had planned to retire three weeks after she left the note. In fact, she told her employer three months prior that she was planning to retire. During that time a series of events happened that made her feel bullied, and a victim to the leadership within her organization. The climate had turned chilly, and there was a general low morale, and an incredibly toxic work environment.

Linda had talked to me several times about her work environment and she, in every conversation, talked about how she felt there was nothing she could do except just suck it up. She had asked her managers several times about the direction of her program after she left so she could let people who would be directly impacted know about it.

Yet, she was literally iced out. She was frustrated. She felt unvalued. She felt forced to do things that felt out of integrity with her personal and professional values. This is a recipe for disaster.

The day that she left, she called me from her car in the parking lot of her office and said, “I did it… I left and I’m not going back. I feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

My response was, “Way to take your power back.” I was proud of my friend and her willingness to recognize there is always a choice, and that she no longer had to be a victim to an organization that didn’t appreciate or value her or her work. Everyone should feel a sense of value in the work they do and a sense of respect for the organization and leaders they serve.

I started to think of it from the employer’s perspective… what could they learn from this?

A big wake-up call — to get to a point where a long-time, dedicated employee is literally leaving you a “Dear John” letter, you seriously must have an environmental issue. This means, there’s no trust, there’s no communication, and there’s certainly no leadership. Normal, loyal, engaged employees don’t just leave without notice. If they value their work, and value their employer, they will go to the ends of the earth for you. If they don’t, well… they won’t even give you a day’s notice. So as an employer, wake-up to your environment and test the temperature to see where your employees are.  

Listen to your employees — Linda told me she told her boss several times how unhappy she was with the new leadership, their lack of experience, and their lack of communication skills. She asked for what she needed and was ignored… pushed to the back-burner and left to boil. If you listen to your employees and what they are saying, and even what they’re not saying, you can actually learn a lot. Will you be able to do everything they want to make themselves happy? Probably not, but at least they feel like you care. So listen up.

Show your employees how much you care — I don’t mean give everyone raises. I mean let them know that you value the work they do. Let them know that you appreciate what they do. At one point, before Linda “peaced out” at her job, she had heard the leader of her organization say, “I don’t care about employee morale… they get all the morale they need on the 15th and the 30th.” So, I don’t know how else to say this, but that pretty much makes you an awful person, who has no business in leadership. If you don’t care about your employees and their work, they won’t care about you or your customers. That’s a surefire way to have both unhappy employees and unhappy customers.

Identify Gaps — So it seems there were some major gaps within this organization. Gaps in communication. Gaps in leadership skills. Gaps in employee engagement. Gaps in trust. Gaps in vision. Gaps in perspective. Gaps gaps gaps! Basically, the gaps within this organization could fill up the Grand Canyon. The only way to fill these gaps is to (a.) Recognize there are gaps. Recognizing the gaps gives you a place to start.  (b.) Identify what the gaps are. (c.) Take steps to fill in the gaps in productive and helpful ways. Get out of denial, and become a leader that your organization needs. Yes, it may be out of your comfort zone.

Yes, it may make you uncomfortable to use skillsets you have never used before. Oh my goodness, you may actually need to TALK to people, but, I promise you, you’ll gain the respect and loyalty of your employees, and that will take you far.

Become Intentional — I’ve worked with lots of organizations since I started my business. The No. 1 thing that sets the best ones apart from the poor ones is intentional leaders. I don’t mean it as a buzzword, I mean people who are clear about who they are, the legacy they want to leave, and the importance of recognizing and celebrating others.

The best leaders come into it with a sense of humility and service. They want the best; not just for their organization, but for the individuals that make up their organization. They are not always the most charismatic person in the room, but they are the ones that you can tell are very intentional about making a positive impact.

So, to the employers out there: it is cliché to say that your employees are you most valuable asset, but it’s also 100 percent the truth. You have the power to create environments for your employees that produce engagement and productivity, happiness and revenue, and most importantly, mutual respect. You’re going to get a lot more from employees if you make an intentional effort to create happier and more respectful workplace.

To the employees: I recognize that not everyone can “pull a Linda” (my new favorite term), but you can always make a choice to find an employer that does respect you, that does support you, and that does value you and your contributions. You always have a choice, and sometimes, it’s best to choose the thing that empowers you. Even if it means pulling a Linda.

Colene Elridge, M.B.A., is a results-oriented success coach with 15 years of experience in human resources, training, government and entrepreneurship. Known as “Coach Colene,” the owner of Be More Consulting is based in Georgetown, Ky. and moderates and speaks at numerous events, conferences and retreats throughout the country. Learn more at www.bemoretransform.com.

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