Last Monday night, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat met for one of their 82 NBA regular-season games.
About eight hours beforehand, the Boston Celtics organization announced that star player Al Horford would miss the game because of "personal reasons," and would return to work on Tuesday.
The personal reason was as good as it gets: Horford's wife, Amelia, gave birth to the couple's second child on Sunday, a daughter named Alia.
After the game, sports media personality Michael Felger couldn't hide his ire. He thought one day of paternity leave was ... way too generous.
In a television segment on CSN New England, Felger said the following:
"Al Horford, your $30 million man or however much you pay him a year, sat out tonight because he had the birth of his kid--was it yesterday? Yesterday. He had the birth of his kid in Atlanta. The game was in Miami.
I know when you make $30 million a year, it ain't much to get a private jet. [Celtics co-owner] Wyc [Grousbeck] would probably pick it up to fly down at 3 o'clock from Atlanta. It's a 90-minute flight to Atlanta. Play the game and come right back. I'm sure his wife is in the hospital surrounded by nurses, mothers, aunts, relatives.
I would have gone to the game, I would have played the game, and I like my guys to sort of forsake everything for the team."
Wow. Is this guy for real?
Wait, it gets better. Felger followed up with this:
"Can I just say one thing quickly? If there were complications, then OK. You know, take that all off the table. If the mother or the child or something happened where there were complications, then I totally understand.
But if it's just a generic childbirth? Play the game. Play the game."
Yes, he did just say "generic childbirth." And singlehandedly illustrated much of what's wrong with society.
How did Horford react to the criticism?
"My family's very important to me. I'm in more of a unique situation because this is our first year [in Boston] and my wife, we all moved in the middle of the pregnancy. And [there is] a lot going on. So I just felt like it was important for me to really be there, supporting her. And we have a son as well. So for her, it's been a lot thrown at her these past few months. I know that it meant a lot for me to be there with her."
Well said, Al. Well said.
As a father of two, I know well the massive positive impact (on both my wife and myself) of being with the family those first days after childbirth. Kudos to Horford for realizing this--and to the Celtics organization for supporting his choice and standing by their player.
[My forthcoming book, EQ, Applied, illustrates just how choices like these make a dramatic difference in building employee loyalty and keeping people engaged at work.]
Unfortunately, though, the reality is that many employers don't see things the same way. "Just 17 percent of employers provide paternity leave with pay, according to a 2010 benefits survey from the Society for Human Resource Management," states job site Monster.com.
In today's world, the war for top talent is fiercer than ever. Of course, you need great compensation and benefits to attract and retain great employees. But beyond that, there's something you can do that goes a lot further--and that, sadly, most companies don't get.
Horford summed it up nicely:
"I'm just very happy that the Celtics really take the time and they consider us not only as players but as people. And people that have families."
Hear that, employers?
Start treating employees like real people, and you just might keep the best ones around.