Personal and work lives are separate


In the past I have taken the opportunity of the Christmas column to at least try to be funny.

For various reasons this year, despite attempting levity with about four starts to columns, I was unable to be even slightly humorous.

Instead, this year I provide a reflective column.

In my role both as Crown Solicitor and employment lawyer I rarely see people that are happy. I think I have made amateur diagnoses of depression and sent clients to their doctor this year on a scale rarely seen in my 20 years. People cry when they come and see me and I often see people at their lowest point (and I am talking here only about my employment clients).

People get overwhelmed about employment issues be they employers or employees and sometimes when I compare the reactions of those clients with victims that I see in the criminal courts I wonder whether sometimes a dose of reality would assist in the employment arena.

The starting point for employees is do not put up with being unhappy at work - find another job and leave. Life is just too short to be miserable at work. If you can't get another job then rather than being miserable make the choice that you are stuck with it until you can and suck it up.

I see so many victims of awful sexual crimes that make the conscious decision that what happened to them will not define their lives and they just get on with it. Sometimes the best advice to employees is - just get on with it.

I hate HR speak. I hate the idea that "team-bonding trips" work.

I hate the idea that you train managers (leaders are born not made). In my view the starting point of having a productive and functional work place is being kind to each other. Managers must earn respect.

If they don't have it maybe they need to look at what they are doing and not blame their subordinates.

At this time of New Year resolutions, perhaps it is worthwhile for us all to reflect on whether it is that difficult to be respectful to those we work with.

I often say to employment clients that they do not need to like the people they work with, indeed most of us work with many people we do not like. It is a bonus if you do like the people.

To work with people you don't have to be bffs (best friends forever for those readers over 30). I have worked with Jill, my PA now for 20 years on and off.

We do not drink together. We do not "hang out together after work" and except in times of extreme personal disaster we do not talk about our private lives.

We have (at least in my opinion) an amazing working relationship. I have the utmost respect and fondness for Jill but I do not expect her to count me as a bff - I am not. I am her boss.

Sometimes I think people confuse and blur the lines between what people need to have to have a good working relationship.

For employees, I always think doing what you are told by the boss is a good starting point. For the boss, treating employees with respect goes a long way.

The other thing that strikes me about employment issues is the fact that people take problems from home into the work place. There seems to be an increasing view by employees that an employer is somehow responsible to manage their work place around an employee's personal problems. Call me old-fashioned, but I do not think so.

The employment relationship is essentially a contractual one. Someone pays you to do a job. If you have had a marriage breakup, a child is causing problems or you are training for a marathon, that's fine, but it's not the employer's "problem". If you are loyal and work hard, your employer may make allowances for times of personal stress. But don't expect it. And when they do - be thankful.

* Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law. She is always interested in ideas for articles. Email her at

The Southland Times