Polarising opinion kills understanding

I was listening in to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 this week (05.07.12). The subject was “should employees be allowed leave from work when their pet dies”. The start-up guests had been chosen to reflect the greatest possibly variation of opinion – a chap whose beloved highland terrier was on his way out with liver cancer and a hard-nosed business “expert” from a business school who thought that work came before all aspects of life, including family and loved ones. Opinions flowed like spilt wine, furious callers expressing their beliefs that this was the “nanny state gone mad” others accusing other callers of callousness.

At no point in the proceedings did the host or any of the callers refer to anything which might be considered as the “middle ground” – were we talking about paid leave? Could the employees find other ways of supporting the pet-bereaved whilst allowing them to work? No way, it was gladiatorial combat between the (apparently) heartless and soft-hearted.

Lively radio – 1 understanding – 0. What a shame..

As we know, private circumstances make bad public law. We tend to try to resolve issues arising from the differences between people at work through policies and procedures – and these are often seen as insufficiently focused, over-punitive, difficult to implement and just ineffective.

The solution is conversation. In these circumstances we need leaders who can empathise with the needs of their workforce, whilst being able to articulate how valuable their employees are and how they need them in work. We need managers with the confidence and communication flexibility to engage with the most challenging, personal work circumstances from terminal illness to budgie death.

And they call it soft skills….


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