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Facebook’s Policy Change Suggests People Are Indeed Human

Last Monday a man I had worked with for over 9 years in my previous job laughed and then suddenly died. He had just turned 65.

On Sunday evening, the day before he died, it began to snow. By the Monday morning of his death over eight inches of snow fell at our house just outside of Seattle. This is unusual for Seattle and my kids and I were determined to make the most of it. I let the office know I would be working remotely (later in the day) and then we suited up to take advantage of the snow.

We threw snowballs, we built snow people and animals, and we rode our sleds down the grass hill on the golf course behind our home. It was a fun morning. Then the phone call came.

I sat down on the bench on our deck next to the six foot snowman we had been building. Death has a way of slowing things down.

I was thinking about this tragedy when I came across an article on TechCrunch about Facebook’s new leave policies.

“Starting today, Facebook employees will have up to 20 days paid leave to grieve an immediate family member, up to 10 days to grieve an extended family member, and will be able to take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative,” Sandberg writes. “We’re also introducing paid family sick time – three days to take care of a family member with a short-term illness, like a child with the flu.”

In light of the events of the week, this article caught my attention.

I am not necessarily intrigued by the company’s policy in and of itself, but I am intrigued by what it represents. This policy represents a better understanding of how people work.

Here’s a secret – people are not machines. I know, it’s a shocking observation!

People cannot be switched to the on position and then set down to crank out widgets all day long at a constant pace. People are people.

This is important to understand because people being people can really mess with the machine-like nature of work. Work likes us to be consistent, producing, and creative.

But how many times have you had those annoying unproductive days? Everything was normal but you just weren’t into it. Your mind was elsewhere.

Now imagine how your day might look if you were dealing with an unexpected family death, or a loved one who is ill. What do you think your productivity would be like? Would work be first on your mind, or do you think you might be distracted?

Facebook’s new policy is a nod to our innate humanity.

All of us need time to get over loss. We need time to help sick family members. We need time to be with our newborn babies. As a recent Bloomberg article notes, “it takes time and emotional energy to care for someone with a terminal illness or recovering from a serious health scare.”

It takes time and emotional energy.

I could keep going here and turn this into an argument about the nobility of Facebook. Maybe it is an act of nobility. But I suspect there is something deeper at play. And it occupies the big intersection of people and work.

For-profit companies hire you because you make more money for the company than they spend to keep you around. To put it coldly, you are a mini profit center. To add warmth, every company is simply a composition of people just like you and I.

The people that operate the companies want to keep you producing. They may like you. And, they may want you to do well in life. But few will tolerate having you around just because you are a great dude. There is some expectation of production.

When life throws you a curveball, you will spend your bandwidth focused on hitting that pitch. This is the emotional energy talked about above. A big part of that bandwidth before the pitch may have been spent on the company’s initiatives. Now it is being spent keeping yourself afloat. Your finite resources are taxed.

A number of organizations I have been a part of offer almost nothing that Facebook offers as noted above. They might offer you a few days of bereavement leave. I don’t know about you, but if my wife died on a Monday I would not be back at work 100 percent on Thursday morning. No way.

Facebook knows this. They know you are going to be out of sorts for a while. They know you won’t be producing. This policy is responding to your innate humanity.

Facebook wants to keep their top talent around. Top talent these days have different expectations for their employers than the top talent did in previous generations. In general, we want more from our employers, and employers who get it will respond. The response changes policy.

All organizations have the chance to make this statement too. They can choose to see the day through the lens of the Excel sheet or they can choose to see the day through the lens of the person assembling the spreadsheets.

What area of focus do you think would better increase the bottom line over time?

by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.
Published on February 14, 2017

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