One of my first jobs involved managing the day-to-day business for a salon. Yes, I got to answer the phones and book appointments, but I also took inventory, ordered supplies and helped maintain schedules.
As I was interviewing for the position, the owner of salon said something that caught me off guard.
“I’m not just looking for a receptionist. I’m looking for someone who can manage the salon while I’m gone. And I’m going to be gone a lot. I have breast cancer.”
As time went on, I realized that this was the entire reason the owner was hiring another person for the salon. In the past, the girls split time manning the phones. There was a single receptionist for their busiest times during the evenings and weekends. But other than that, Linda* had run the salon on her own.
Now, she was going through a double mastectomy and chemo treatments. She was going to be away from her business that she had run for two decades on her own. And she was determined to make sure that her company stayed in tact while it was away.
Warren Buffett’s recent announcement that he’s going through prostate cancer made me think about what it’s like to work for a boss with cancer. How can employees help their managers and mentors during what can be a difficult and trying time in a person’s life?
While I’m obviously not personally acquainted with Mr. Buffett’s situation, here’s a few tips that I took away from helping my own mentor go through this health scare and the painful treatment that can follow.
- Figure out how much information should go public. Salons are known for gossip and we had plenty of patrons who wanted to know the details behind the owner’s disappearance. I had to sit down with Linda and have a realistic conversation about how much information she wanted made public. We even needed to discuss whether there were certain aspects of her treatment that she wanted to tell her staff or if she only wanted important information shared with everyone. A person’s health is a private matter and your boss will appreciate you helping them keep that privacy during a difficult time.
- Understand their limitations. Surgery and treatment can be painful and draining. Your boss might not be able to stand for long periods of time without getting out of breath. The stairs might be a little more difficult than they were in the past. Be cognizant of these issues and try to help where you can. Bring documents to their desk instead of putting them in their mailbox on the first floor. Speaking of mail, bring their’s up for them when you grab your own. Go on a couple coffee runs. Don’t stand and talk in the hall, move it into an office where they can sit down. All these little thoughtful touches will make your boss’s day just a little easier.
- Don’t assume their incompetence. There is a reason why Warren Buffett made sure to include that his condition would not effect his work. Many bosses do not want to see their authority in the office questioned because they are going through a personal health issue. So try not to become condescending with your aid. Take the lead from them and continue to respect their control of the office. Don’t try to pick up extra jobs that they haven’t asked you to. You don’t want to step on their toes.