Abnormal normals

I was excited to start this day because I finally have one answered prayer from God: a new staff. It’s a never-ending cycle for us in the company, along with all my other friends who are also in business. I’m past the culture shock, having lived here for the last 5 years. Unlike in Manila where you cannot just NOT show up when you don’t feel like it, here, it’s pretty…normal.

It is absolutely abnormal, unacceptable and unprofessional anywhere else –that’s for sure. But it is a way of life that we’ve come to terms with here in Palawan. Instead of formally resigning, people really just disappear. They don’t show up and they don’t communicate. Several of my friends also lost their staff at the start of the year like us, and as mentioned, it is a recycled story every time we come together and ask how the business is doing. “Oh yeah, my secretary went AWOL.” “Oh, yours, too?” Pretty abnormally normal. 

So I am thankful that God allowed me some breathing space today.

Abnormal normals. We take these things in stride and “learn to accept them” out of necessity, but I hope what is unacceptable, what is abnormal, what deviates from the standard of what is true, does not become acceptable or normal like they slowly and subtly have become. It’s all around us. Truth becomes relative, is twisted to fit someone’s version, and is often abused.

On this particularly example of my staff leaving, I also had to deal with this issue before God. I was confiding with my friend Meryll about how upsetting the situation was and how bad I felt because I believed we had treated her so nicely and professionally. Still, she had the audacity to leave without notice. It made me even question my own character. I remember telling Meryll that the reason I felt heart broken about it was because I believed that it wasn’t a normal situation. Things seemed out of place. And kindness begets kindness. You treat people well and the normal reaction would be for them to also treat you well in return. Couldn’t she just resign properly if she meant to leave, rather than not show up for no reason? Isn’t that what we all just expect from people? If we had mistreated or took advantage of her, if we even had not been good superiors to her, I guess it would be warranted that she resign. I wouldn’t stay if my superior was not treating me well or if I wasn’t happy with how the company was run. But it was the complete opposite in this case, which was also why my sister Jem also had to chime in. Probably because I was emotional, I said to Jem in passing that “sometimes, I feel it doesn’t matter whether you are kind to them or not. They still leave.” Jem blurted out, “no, it matters. It matters out of principle. Why should you be unkind? As Christians, we should always be kind. Whether they leave or not is their action. Your action should always just be to be kind. That they left does not mean you were at fault.”

This particular staff had a habit of being late at work and not informing us of whether she’ll be absent or not. Her time sheets reflect her bizarre reporting days. She would tell me, a whole day has passed since she should have been in the office, that “she got into an accident and just only had her phone with her now.” We believed her and were lenient. We wished her speedy recovery. When her uncle died, she was gone for three full days before she thought of informing me that she was in Taytay for the burial and asked for extension. She was often late for work, and barely replied to text messages. The bakery girls downstairs sometimes would knock on our door to ask if she had received their text message because they all order food together for lunch, and she wasn’t replying whether she’ll join in on the order. She has that habit of not replying, which is probably one of the the things that annoy me the most. She was also the staff that filed a leave a day before, with no approval and with her plane ticket in tow, leaving me no choice but to approve her sudden leave. That left me staff-less for the duration of post-Christmas until the first few days of the New Year. But I was very lenient with her and softened on my approach to my staff. When Jem was suspicious that she was going to leave, I sided with the staff and told Jem I believe she would still come back. She had no reason to leave. She had a good pay. Her benefits were good. She had a good working relationship with our drivers as well. She wasn’t perfect at her job, and often had mistakes, but we gave her time and grace because she was just with us for 3 months. Probably the trauma of another employee leaving made me gentler, less strict. Probably, that was also taken advantaged of.

What hurt me, though, was that I really treated her well. I would bring her home almost everyday on my way out. Instead of commuting, I’d tell her to just hop in as I go out for dinner, and on the way I would drop her off to her street. We had good conversations inside the car. She seemed to enjoy her work. For lunch, I normally cook and often bring her food. When she got injured, I lent my crutches to her. I’m a gift person, so I often buy trinkets from wherever, and often give her little gifts. These things were done naturally. I never did these things from any personal agenda other than just me wanting to be kind to them.

When she finally wasn’t replying to any of our text messages, Jem gave me a directive to confront our staff by text and inform her that we have been fair in our obligations to her. “I think you should also be fair with us.” Jem wrote. “We invested in a lot of time training you, and if you will not show up, we would appreciate if you just let us know.”

Nothing. No reply. Unanswered calls. The whole day.

I followed it up with a text that had more heart in it. I told my staff that we won’t take her resignation against her, but that she just had to resign formally because this is the right thing to do. I told her that as her manager, it was upsetting how she was treating us by not replying or showing up for work when we had treated her very well. You know what she replied? (She said this in tagalog). “If you were going to boast about your good deeds, I never asked them from you. You make me out to be the one at fault. I’ll resign without explaining and give the office key back.”

What a disgrace. Not normal. Absolutely not normal. For a while, she made me question my character, and it hurt me. In reality, her unprofessional ways were what’s wrong and that was what we were trying to address. We were confronting her for her unprofessional behavior despite all the leniency and kindness she has received from us at work and instead, she brought up an issue that was unrelated. Why would we boast about our good deeds to her? No, we were not boasting. We were reminding her that we have been very fair and kind to her and did not deserve this kind of treatment. But did you catch it? It was so subtle. Instead of confronting the truth, she twisted the truth. She tried to skirt the real issue. She was caught in her ways and when confronted, she became defensive.

This was something that both Meryll and Jem (unaware) made me see. I was guilt-stricken because it felt like I had done something wrong again. It took me a while to understand this and to even accept it. The facts are: Her behavior right from the start was not normal. Her unprofessional ways were not normal. It was normal for me as her manager to demand that she suit up and be professional at work. It was normal for me to get upset because she was always late for work. It was normal for me to reprimand her when she does not  reply to our text messages. It was normal for me to feel bad and hurt because we did care for her like a family.

These are the normals and the abnormals. These are what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. We should live in such a way where we are always aware of what is right and wrong and not gloss over these things, because pretty soon, the world will define for us what’s normal.

Last thoughts? Romans 12:2 in my mind.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


2 thoughts on “Abnormal normals

  1. Sorry to hear about this situation, KZ! Really strange, I wonder how their logic functions? Hope your new staff will treat you with the same professional kindness, if not more :)

  2. It’s a common story among us business owners in Palawan. It’s so different, the working environment here. Because it’s the province, people are not as “professional”.

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