I recently heard a story that really disturbed me and made me ask if some people in the world of work have forgotten how to be human?
The story goes: there is this organization that sells “things” and, like many others, when the lockdown was implemented, they were clearly in for a struggle. However, they had one salesperson who didn’t struggle. On the contrary, she excelled and produced the best sales figures ever during the month of April. She kept the entire business out of the red zone, based on these achievements. But she didn’t do this alone… she had a team. The disturbing part of this story is not the record breaking sales, which is indeed excellent, but the toll it has taken on the team.
This team is allegedly broken and is reporting levels of anxiety that none of them have ever previously experienced… as record breaking as the sales figures are. There has been no room for adapting to the current challenges, just pressure to sell, sell, sell no matter what. This “no matter what” approach has meant giving up their lives in order to meet the aspirations of their team lead – being the salesperson in question. Their reports to her of not coping under the pressure have fallen on deaf ears: they’ve been repeatedly met with the above ‘sell, sell, sell’ mentality. Their physical and mental health, their family lives, their domestic responsibilities, and their recreational and relaxation activities have been completely dismissed and considered irrelevant. I can imagine them being told something along the lines of, “We have to sell or none of us will have jobs and then what?”
This may be true, but is it worth dying for?
I think there is a big problem when this happens in a workplace and it places the employer in a difficult situation. They want to keep their star performer, but at what cost? What would happen if just one of these team members ended up in hospital due to a serious medical or mental illness?
It’s true that something catastrophic is often required before corrective action is taken; whether this be fixing an open manhole, enclosing an unprotected height or stopping an excessively demanding salesperson. If the entire team thrived on the pressure and took it in their stride, that would be different. But if not, as appears to be the case here, it needs to be contained, with preventative measures being put in place.
This takes a leader who is able to prioritize their people over their sales figures, specifically during times when their teams are suffering. This should not be the standard for an exceptional leader: it should simply be the standard for leadership. A leader should be able to both acknowledge the outstanding performance of their salesperson, but who can also stop them from hurting other people in these efforts. A leader should be willing to accept that money, while clearly important, is not absolutely everything.
What would my recommendations be to this organization? Well, first and foremost, that this salesperson should be monitored to ensure she does not continue with her damaging methodologies. Her sales targets should be adjusted and she should even work by herself.
There is a possibility that other people are willing and able to work according to her expectations. If this is the case, there may be a good match between personnel available here. Even with this, however, I would suggest that her team be closely monitored for signs and symptoms of physical and emotional exhaustion, even burnout, including cynicism and inefficacy. I would further recommend that this salesperson be encouraged to attend some training on management because, while she may be brilliant in sales, she needs assistance in finding the balance when doing so alongside a team.
Sadly, the corporate world has become all about money, and while I’m for making good profits, I am also for doing so with minimal risk to the physical and mental well-being of all those included.
Where are you on the continuum?
Take care everyone.