A young colleague, who was on maternity leave, called me two weeks after her baby's birth to say she wanted to cut short her leave and join back. My advice about the importance of taking time off to let her body recover and the importance of spending the initial few weeks with the baby, fell on deaf ears. She was insistent. She wanted to come back.
We met shortly thereafter to discuss options, and it was then that I noticed the bruises on her hands. Her gold bangles were missing too. She noticed my look and averted her eyes. I felt it was best not to ask or say anything.
Since our HR rules stipulated a three month paid maternity, I could not have her come to office. I encouraged her to take a technical course. She readily agreed and signed up for a two month intensive web designing program. On joining back, she put to use her newly acquired skills, took stretch assignments, and was promoted to a managerial role. In a casual meeting, a few months later, she showed me photos of her daughter. Quietly she said her husband and she had availed of counselling services and things were peaceful at home.
As I think back on the turn of events, what becomes amply clear is that we must develop good antennae and observational skills. At work, we often find ourselves racing to meet deadlines and targets. It is difficult to find time for a personal connect and casual conversation. Sometimes, culture differences may act as barriers. Sometimes, we can be judgmental. Sometimes, we are unable to find a balance between being intrusive and aloof. Sometimes, we are unable to pick up signals for help.
Connecting the dots, listening to and understanding the unsaid, is not easy. However, I will leave you with the following thoughts...
As a leader, stay connected, be available for your colleagues, develop trust, and lend support. Most individuals go through ups and downs. Support as many as you can. Put yourself in their shoes and then decide what would work best. In today's virtual scenario supporting coworkers has assumed even more significance. Domestic abuse is found in the most unexpected family situations. Well educated professionals may resort to abusive behavior or may choose to suffer silently. It is up to us to determine how we can extend a helping hand.
I would love to hear your views.