This article originally published on LinkedIn. Republished here with the author’s permission.
During a workplace presentation, a female executive shared her purple rabbit story and it has stuck with me. She had taken a new role with expanded responsibility while adjusting to motherhood. She was driving herself ragged to be present in the office by a certain early-bird hour. She hit her breaking point as it wasn’t working. She went to her leader’s office and exclaimed: “I can’t be here so early”.
His response was “OK, then don’t.” She elaborated on how she couldn’t do it and why she couldn’t do it. He said I trust you to get your work done whether you are here early or not.
It was a big huge hairy purple rabbit.
She assumed that what time she arrived was a direct reflection of her work product. She asked and found out the work product stood for itself.
I have noticed my own purple rabbits. I have hesitated to make simple requests that would directly correlate to my work/life balance, employee satisfaction, and associate engagement. I have figured that it might look a certain way to others. Why?
Purple rabbit. It’s easier to assume than ask. It becomes bigger in your head than it is in reality.
I recently found myself faced with my own tiny purple rabbit. I decided to ask instead of assume and was extremely pleased with the results.
My daughter attends fulltime daycare and she was going on her first field trip to the pumpkin patch. It just so happened that my schedule aligned to take the morning off and go but mother nature had other plans. It rained, it poured and the field trip was canceled. It was unknown when it would be rescheduled and I realized it likely wouldn’t work for me to go.
Fast-forward a couple weeks and I receive a message from my husband saying he learned at drop-off that it was make-up pumpkin patch day. I was already at work and I had room in my schedule but started to assume it might be too silly of an ask. I sat at my desk pondering and then realized that I should simply ask.
My leader was more than happy to encourage me to enjoy the pumpkin patch. I arrived while they were on the hayrack ride and as it pulled up I could hear kids say, “Norah’s mom”.
When she ran over to hug me, her smile was priceless. In the middle of the workday, I found myself racing on oversized tricycles and kicking off dress shoes to bounce on the jump pad. It was a blast and I have some precious selfies to prove it.
In the end, I took a long early lunch and then worked from home which made all the difference. My work wasn’t impacted and in fact, I was more focused and engaged, as my leader predicted. I know that I won’t make every event but it meant a lot to be there for the first field trip. With a simple request, the purple rabbit was slain and I was one happy employee.
I believe asking instead of assuming is a key to improve work/life balance, increase associate engagement and encourage diversity. Often a self-imposed barrier to career advancement is a perceived notion of whether one can have it all or not.
Having it all will not mean the same to every associate. Some employees may need more flexibility to balance family responsibilities due to young children or aging parents. They may want to return to school and need alternative schedules to make class schedules work. Others may want to select a certain shift to avoid traffic. Or it could give them the chance to give back during the workday. It might be last minute requests because the weather aligns with their hobbies. Asking for an accommodation slays the purple rabbit that often is a figment of the associate’s imagination.
While this works easier in salaried situations, it can also work for hourly associates. Even within a call center, staffing and scheduling can be calculated to include a certain expected same-day usage factor. Encouraging flexibility and making the purple rabbits of present-ism disappear can make a world of difference in attracting and retaining talent.
Leaders need to foster an environment that encourages associates to ask instead of assume for the little things that make a big difference in workplace satisfaction. Associates must take ownership in having conversations with their leaders to share what accommodations they need to make it work. We can all do our part to control the purple rabbit population.