Yesterday, I was power walking down the hallway to meet with a client and I noticed one of my my employees from the corner of my eye sitting in a meeting room staring at the wall with his arms crossed. This particular employee spent 9 years in prison for assault, so when he's upset I like to see what's going on. As much stuff as I had to do, I knew nothing was more important than being a listening ear for my employee. I dropped my purse, sat down my coffee and slid down against the wall to sit on the ground. I simply asked how his day was going. I sat down to be lower than him because at that moment I did not want to be his boss. I wanted to be his friend, which is exactly what he needed.
He immediately began to sob. He asked me "Why did I turn out the way I am?"
Without going into too much detail, what he meant was why does he struggle with insecurities and anger. He started to talk about his upbringing and described the hurt and confusion he feels that his company and strangers on social media believe in him more than his own family.
This person is one of the most amazing second chance hires I've ever made. Hard working, loyal, dedicated and reliable. Most reformed felons exude these qualities, but not without nurturing. If you want to have an employee that makes your company part of their family, you must treat them like family. You cannot fake employee engagement or culture when you work with people who have a history of feeling alone or abandoned. Having a strong workforce of people grateful for a second chance isn't as easy as simply deciding to make the hire. It takes work to build and mold your culture, but it is so worth it.
Our employees act like owners. They see our company as their own and will protect it as such. They make daily decisions that will help the company thrive and they see the big picture of making our family bigger, because that's what we crave. Family.
The easiest way for me to describe how to manage second chance employees is by comparing it to what it's like to manage an entry level employee without a criminal background. Most times, the younger generation are motivated by time off. Formerly incarcerated hires are motivated by time spent.
Second chance hires are only as good as the time you spend to build them up. They are rarely there for the money. If it was about money, they'd be back in the streets. Had I kept walking down the hall and did not spend the 10 minutes to be a listening ear, my employee would've been mentally crippled for the rest of the day and unproductive. Instead, I told him I was proud of him for being vulnerable and that it's a sign of strength to cry and far from a weakness. I empowered him to be strong enough to do the work to process his feelings so he can be a leader to our incoming second chance hires.
I want to leave you with 3 steps I follow when it comes to management and leadership in my company:
1. Listen: Always make listening a priority and display a sense of urgency when it comes to being human.
2. Educate: Experience share. Explain ways you can relate and what helped you get through tough times and feelings.
3. Empower: Give your vote of confidence that they can accomplish what they set out to do & acknowledge the strength and courage it took to get this far.
I am a huge advocate for second chance hiring, but I am a even bigger advocate for educating leadership on the responsibilities that come with it. When it comes to managing people who have trauma or history of addiction, we must understand how important of a role we have as a change-maker.