While I was in the hospital, I shared a room with another patient (I'll save the customer sat aspects of that policy for another blog post...).
For a few days, one of the patients was a 9-year-old boy who was hit by a car while riding his bike without a helmet. He had a 10 inch scar down the side of his head that I'll always remember. Remarkably, he was in good spirits, and will likely recover nicely.
His father and mother were there in the room with him most of the time. Just after they moved in, I heard the boy's father on the phone with his company. He was asking his boss for two things: 1) for two weeks vacation to help take care of his son; and 2) access to his retirement account (401k) funds to help with medical bills. His company flatly denied both requests. Because he was two weeks shy of being there a full year, he was told he had no accrued vacation. They told him if he took any time off, he'd be fired. Additionally, he was told the only way he could access his retirement account was if he left the company.
Contrast that to my situation. My wife called my manager on Monday morning, and I was immediately told to take all the time I needed, even if was going to be for an extended time. People from work sent flowers, books, goodies, and even arranged to have meals delivered for my family. I got personal notes from folks I hadn't seen for months. Everyone understood the situation, and were forgiving of missed deadlines or canceled meetings. And when I returned to work, my office was decorated with balloons and streamers to welcome me back. And many of the important projects I was working on were on track by the extra work of people on my team.
Even when it's a family member with an illness or injury, my team's been unquestionably supportive. Several years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and I took three weeks off without advance notice while she underwent several emergency surgeries. The reaction by my managers and co-workers then was almost identical.
It makes me sad to think that the injured boy's father had to deal with the stress of possibly being fired, on top of his son's near-fatal accident and lengthy recovery. I didn't even know the guy, and I wanted to call a lawyer and drag his company in federal court. I know in this case, he didn't choose his company based on the people with whom he'd work (he is a truck driver), but it made me think about the team I have, and the importance of the personal friendships we've developed.
It sure makes it easier to get through the rough spots when I know my co-workers are there backing me up. And ultimately, it makes it easier for me to trust them to help with the mundane aspects of my daily job. All that leads to a more engaged team, better productivity, and ultimately better results in the marketplace (and better products for our customers).