Professionalism or Empathy?
Trigger warning: If you are going through an emotional state, you may want to hold yourself back and read this some other time. This is just another narrative of how my character was formed in my younger years.
From my previous bout of depression ( see: I Think I Caused Someone’s Death vlog), I somehow managed to gather myself together and rise through the challenges. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
I definitely felt stronger after that incident.
But not long after that, I was once again faced with an emotional dilemma.
After giving birth of my first child, I was 23, I went back to work with a fresh new perspective. It was a bittersweet moment. In the Philippines, paid maternity leave is only up to two months. Longer than that and it will be unpaid (but depends on the company).
I was glad to be back to work. I was proved inefficient in taking care of a baby. My mom took my role instead. However, we have to leave the baby to her in my hometown, which is full 8-hours away from me. I only get to visit once every 2 months. I resumed my work while battling with post-partum depression, which I was not aware of at that time.
At around the same time, another colleague also had a baby. Mine was only a few days older. Our babies became our topic of conversation often and she became one of my closest coworkers. I’ve also seen her baby boy quite a lot. We showed each other pictures of our little bundles of joy.
Until few months later, her baby boy became in and out of the hospital. They said there was a problem to one of the major internal organs. Each time it happened, my colleague always provided certification so the company would pay some benefits. It came to a point where she had used up all those credits but the company decided to help her out since it’s a baby boy we all know and grown to adore.
Until one day, she submitted another medical certificate. The HR staff in-charge on that day had time to spare. She noticed that the logo of the hospital on the certificate seemed off. She took out all the similar certificates and noticed that the logos were indeed different each time. It turned out that those were falsified.
According to the by-laws, that is definitely a terminable offense. And it wasn’t even done once but multiple times. It became habitual. The company had an administrative investigation to give both parties a chance to be heard. However, it was indeed decided that it was a grave offense and she should be let go.
However, the burden was levied on me. Despite the clear truth that there was indeed enough proof to fire this employee, they gave the responsibility to me. My decision, they said, is what they will honor. Because they knew I had formed a connection to both mother and baby, they would let me decide on what to do in this case. Unbeknownst to me, it was another training. I’d be a great leader they said. I didn’t know that.
I remember clearly. It was almost Christmas time. I missed my daughter so much. She was growing up so fast and I missed a lot of her milestones. I was an emotional wreck.
Then one day during my rest day, someone knocked on our door. We weren’t expecting anyone. I was talking, or trying to talk to my baby on the phone.
Then my baby’s father opened the door. Outside was a tired, distressed woman. It was my colleague I was about to fire.
There was an awkward moment of silence. She then tried talking, but it only came as a shaking stutter than turned into sobs.
“Miss Annie, please…“, and I knew what she meant.
My heart sank. I was torn like a rag. I felt like a trash and I couldn’t bear witness the heart-rending moment.
” My boy is at the hospital with tubes in his lungs. I need this job. Please, it’s almost Christmas. Just this once and I will be grateful to you forever.”
How could I ignore those words? I could even imagine the tiny boy’s situation. What could I do?
Came Monday, I had to deliver a verdict. If you were me, what would you have done?
I knocked on the door to meet the higher ups. Papers on my hand, I greeted them tersely. They greeted back. The room was quiet. At least 8 pairs of discerning eyes were on me. My colleague was at the other room, but because the wall was a one-way mirror, I could see her clearly, her defeated and downcast form on the chair.
I laid the paper on the table. It was a termination paper. She had to be let go. My name was clearly signed on those documents.
“Rules are either for everyone or to no one”, that’s what they taught me. There is no place for emotions. Business isn’t charity and your colleagues are not your family they said. You are just doing your job.
Without question, those papers were signed and sealed. I did it. I’m done with the appalling task. I was about to throw up. But I maintained my composure.
I laid another set of papers. They looked at it then looked at me. Their eyes were questioning me. I didn’t budge.
On their hands were copies of my resignation letter effective immediately. If professionalism means losing compassion and empathy, then I probably wasn’t made for it.
Along with the reason for my resignation, I made several requests:
- that my colleague could get her full benefits despite the offense ( according to the by-laws, such offense would strip someone off those benefits), and,
- I would only accept my salary for the number of days I’ve worked. Anything I was entitled to receive upon resignation should go to her.
I was thinking my baby’s father is still employed and could provide for both of us. i might just need the time off to spend time with my daughter. Maybe I wasn’t suitable to such position.
None of my requests were granted. The employee was fired, my resignation rejected. But they didn’t let the employee go empty-handed. The company decided to provide financial help to her. Firing her, they said, is formality because that’s what the rules dictate. They applauded my professionalism though. Apparently, I passed their little secret test. But it was nothing to me. I was numb.
I continued working with them for few more years and encountered a lot more difficult situations such as this one. I followed the books and set aside my personal feelings. I became the cold, calculated, professional bitch that people love and hate. They trained me well and succeeded in creating a new persona in me. They molded me into someone they wanted to see. And I let them.
I could say, I learned the hard way indeed. I was made of sterner stuff. Those experiences made me to who I am today, or did they?
I was honed to become tough, to be rational and level-headed. Emotions, they said, won’t get me anywhere. I believed them. I was young and inexperienced. I carried those characteristics for a really long time. Now? I’m not sure what I’m made of anymore. So much emotional luggage to carry and no idea when to unload them, because you see, I thought it was okay. Now, they are catching up on me.
There are things we wish we could change. But there are changes that we wish never happened, or we wish we could undo.
Did you ever wish you never grew up? Have you ever felt like you miss your old self? I guess we all do. Some things inside us just stays the same no matter how old, how successful, how mature we become.
“There is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.”