Disobey Your Attorney: Share Life With Your Employees

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In part two, Todd Richardson shares real-life examples of how caring for your employees can lead to a stronger business.

Below are examples of real life cases where I ignored traditional legal counsel and instead focused solely on the whole employee, both professionally and personally:

  • Sue, an HR Specialist working for me, had been trying to get pregnant for over three years. During that time, she had two failed in-vitro attempts and one miscarriage. While Sue was not one of my direct reports, and I did not have routine interactions with her, I had heard from others of her pregnancy woes. One day, I saw her at her desk weeping. I asked her to come into my office. She immediately broke down and asked that I not fire her for being distracted and less effective the last few years. I offered her a tissue and re-assured her that our meeting was not a professional meeting, but instead a personal meeting. I explained that I first and foremost cared about her health and well-being. I then stressed that I cared about all of her life goals, including personal goals. Sue shared that she and her husband wanted a family more than anything else and then outlined the challenges that they had encountered. I immediately explained that I am part of their team and that I would do what is necessary to support Sue and her husband in achieving their parenting dream. I subsequently scheduled time to meet with Sue and her husband and talked about opportunities where I could be more supportive in their birthing efforts. We ultimately agreed to have Sue come to the office later in the morning, work from home every other day, and travel less. These moves helped lessen Sue’s stress and provided her the support she needed to ultimately get pregnant and have a beautiful baby boy. An attorney would advise not to engage an employee on this type of situation. I could have opened the door for exposure under the American with Disabilities Act and a variety of pregnancy-related and sex discrimination laws. Instead, I formed a relationship with Sue that helped her achieve her personal goals and ultimately resulted in Sue’s tremendous loyalty to her employer.
  • Shane was a long-tenured product leader who was a high-performer for many years. However, he had become less engaged and disconnected from his team. I asked Shane for coffee and discovered the source of his angst was not work, but martial challenges. His wife of many years had an affair, and Shane was navigating, albeit unsuccessfully, marriage counseling. I maintained regular communication with Shane, listening to his challenges, counseling him where I could help, and generally offering him a support system at work. I even went so far as to pray with Shane, knowing we shared similar religious beliefs. We worked out a work schedule where Shane could take the time he needed to attend both couples and individual counseling, and to generally create space for him to work through this intense personal pain. Shane experienced close to two years of turmoil, resulting ultimately in his divorce. Shane is re-married and back to a stable place personally. He is re-engaged at work, operating at an even higher level than before. An attorney would advise not to engage an employee facing these types of personal challenges. I could have opened the door for exposure under the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or the Family and Medical Leave Act. Instead, Shane became re-engaged and became a star performer.
  • Kelly was a professionally ambitious recruiter and the most productive contributor at an important time in our company’s growth. With that said, Kelly had dreams of managing a recruiting tea, and shared those dreams with me. I met with Kelly and discussed her professional aspirations. She explained she wanted to start a family, but not before achieving some career milestones. Time was of the essence, and she asked how she could accelerate her professional growth. After a few discussions, it became clear Kelly could not achieve her ambitions at our company. I instead actively worked with Kelly to identify outside opportunities where she would be able to meet her professional goals more quickly. Kelly ultimately took a job with a company I introduced her to that better met all of her aspirations. While I lost a key player at a critical time in our own businesses evolution, satisfying Kelly’s needs was not only the right thing to do for her, but also showed other employees how much I cared for them as people. Through action, not words, I demonstrated my commitment to their professional and personal growth, regardless of the impact on my business interests.


In the above three scenarios, I (1) discussed an employee’s physical conditions impacting childbearing and met with her family to ensure I was playing a role in helping them achieve their family goals; (2) provided counsel to an employee around a marital situation; and (3) actively found a key employee a new job that better fit her professional and personal goals.  An attorney or business professor would never recommend the above actions. I got personal with each of the employees and ensured they knew I cared about all aspects of their lives, professional and personal, even to my own detriment.

I have adopted the care-for-the-whole-employee strategy for more than a decade, touching over 7,500 different employees. This required my team and I to manage through a variety of employee personal issues involving mental health, physical health, marital challenges, sexual orientation topics, personal financial troubles— the list goes on and on.  Most attorneys and traditional business professionals would advise never to address or discuss these personal topics with employees. They would claim it is better legally and from a business perspective just to ignore all topics not tied directly to work duties. I discount this advice and instead preach the exact opposite—get involved in your employees’ lives and care for all of them, the whole person. For me, this approach has paid off in higher employee engagement and loyalty. Furthermore, I have never encountered a situation where an employee alleged or pursued legal action against me or the company for having gotten personal with them and expressing my care and support for the whole person.

This article advocates for caring for the whole person. However, never forget that general business principles (e.g. cost/benefit analyses) should govern how much attention should be provided to a particular employee. We have all had the employee who is a constant swirl of drama and non-value-added activity. Some employees cannot be helped or don’t want to be helped. Other employees are in need of so much help that if you were to invest in them, you would be neglecting other employees and business interests. The balance is not always easy. The bottom line is that managers must make a judgment call on when to invest in employees and how much to invest in those employees. But avoiding all investment is a mistake. ♦


Todd Richardson

Todd Richardson

Todd is the former Executive Vice President of Administration for Salesforce.com (previously ExactTarget before Salesforce.com acquired ExactTarget in 2013)
Todd Richardson

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