Geoffrey Owens is an actor.
But he's also a husband, a father, and a very hard worker.
Owens, who played a major role on The Cosby Show for multiple seasons, made headlines recently when he was photographed scanning groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joe's. But instead of negative publicity, Owens was overwhelmed by an outpouring of support, as countless people praised his humble efforts to provide for his family.
"I was only devastated for an hour or two," Owens told CNN in a recent interview. "It was hurtful but very short lived. What has been sustained, now over days, is how much love and support there is. Not just for me but for working people. The idea that 'Hey, what's wrong with working at Trader Joe's, or any job like that?"
Before the story went live, though, Owens quit his job at the grocery store, which he had held for 15 months.
"As soon as I heard this story was in the works, I resigned because I didn't feel that for my peace of mind and my dignity that I was going to be able to function there in a positive way, spiritually and emotionally," Owens told CNN.
How did his employer respond?
"[Trader Joe's] said instead of leaving, why not just call it a temporary leave of absence," Owens said. "I can go back whenever I want."
Bravo, Trader Joe's.
Why this response is so great
While simple, the response of Trader Joe's is a perfect example of emotional intelligence--the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
While the company recognized Owens's freedom to leave, it no doubt hated to lose a good worker. By leaving the door open for Owens to return, Trader Joe's showed that it cared about the person, not just the employee.
And the company made it that much easier for Owens to return if he ever finds himself in need of honest, decent work.
I did a little digging, and it turns out that Trader Joe's actually has a great reputation as an employer. For one, the company has repeatedly been named to Glassdoor's list of "Best Places to Work." The company offers decent compensation and benefits, such as health insurance for part-time workers (including dental and vision plans), annual pay increases, and plenty of opportunity for advancement.
But it's the company's management style that makes the greatest impression.
Ivetta Linnell, who worked five years at a Cape Cod, Massachusetts, location, told Time.com she appreciated the "positive environment" of her store more than anything else. Linnell, who left her home in the Czech Republic 14 years ago to immigrate to the U.S., and worked in various jobs including cleaning hotels and food service, described the job as transformative.
"Honestly, it's been like the only job in America, and I've worked a lot of jobs, where I felt appreciated and supported," she said.
And then there's this Chicago Tribune story by Hayley Benham-Archdeacon, who worked at Trader Joe's for seven years.
"At my last store, my co-worker was having a rough time in his personal life and the frustration was beginning to show at work," writes Benham-Archdeacon. "We watched a manager take him out back, presumably for a stern talking to. In fact, the manager handed him a box of broken eggs from the spoils cart, taped a plastic pallet wrap-up to the wall of our loading dock, and told him to throw eggs at the wall until he felt better. It worked."
Benham-Archdeacon continues, "Almost every manager I ever had somehow made me feel like I could tell them anything, personal or otherwise--even though I didn't have a lot in common with them. They did a lot of listening up front and opened up almost every conversation with asking what I think and then responding to what I said. I always felt trusted."
Now that's what I call emotional intelligence.
So, if a member of your team is struggling, resist the urge to view them as an "employee." Instead, treat them like a real person--one with feelings and emotions.
If they fall, help them up. Don't dishearten or tear down; encourage and lift up. Remind them that everyone has a bad day. Or a bad year.
And if they choose to leave, keep the door open.
Thanks, Trader Joe's, for showing us how it's done.