A member of my management team recently told me that his spouse and co-parent to their children had cancer.
They have been married for over two decades. He has worked in the same office with me for over a decade and has grown his career at our company, leading people and processes. He’s advised me as CEO and has worked with all members of our management team, and now, he faces a challenge that not only was he not ready for, but one he didn’t do anything to deserve. It just happens. It's of course difficult for the person who has it, but it also is terribly hard on those who love that person.
I hugged him and told him we were here for him. He would figure out the schedule he needed to so he could be at doctor appointments and be around the house a little more. It really puts flexibility into perspective when someone needs it in order to be there for their spouse who is going through something so awful. That's work-life balance.
A couple days later he was in the office again, meeting with his team and getting support from his coworkers, his friends. He talked a little more than usual and was very emotional. He showed candor, vulnerability and honesty. We all just listened at different times. That’s what you do.
How we reacted at work was important so he knew how this side of his life would be because the long road hasn’t even started yet, from the surgeries to chemo and radiation to the kids’ reactions after the news settled in.
One night, he came into my office and said, let’s have a drink. Not too long after, there were six people in my office (two C-level people, two VPs, a couple of managers and a couple of 3-4-year staff in their twenties). I don’t think everyone even knew what was going on in his life, they were just chatting and enjoying each other's company. No talk of cancer. Just coworkers of all rank and file, after work, shooting the breeze, laughing and enjoying being coworkers.
He called me later and said, "thank you, I really needed that." Of course he did. We all did, and we didn’t have what he has going on.
In a world of remote workers and telecommuting, it made me value even more the role that corporate culture takes on. Having friends in the workplace that you can see every day, who share a common bond that isn’t the all-encompassing illness some are facing at home. A reprieve of sorts.
He knows the road will be way harder for his wife, and he’ll be there for her. But while people write about separation of work and needing balance, sometimes an office and coworkers, and being needed a lot in your role is just what the doctor ordered.