How One CEO Responded to a Mother Crying at Work — and What Companies Can Take Away From His Story

September 12, 2019

A little compassion goes a long way. That’s what Bernie Reifkind, CEO of executive search firm Premier Search, Inc., discovered after he came into the office to find an employee sobbing at her desk early one morning. Clearly exhausted, the woman told him she’d been up all night with her sick child. 

Surprised, Bernie asked her why she’d come in. The employee’s answer was one that’s all too common: She had run out of sick days and couldn’t afford to take any more time off. 

Immediately, Bernie sent the mother home with full pay. And he didn’t stop there — knowing she must be worried about money, he also wrote her a check. 

“To this day, she is my best employee,” Bernie wrote on LinkedIn, in a post that has since gone viral, “not just because of her talent but her loyalty.”

Here is his full post:

Bernie’s story is a reminder that showing employees you care can make a real difference — both in their own lives and in the way they look at your company. But it also highlights the struggles faced by many working parents and the ways in which work might be failing them. Here’s what we can take away from Bernie’s story:

Being kind is its own reward — but it can also build loyalty among employees

You can never know everything that’s going on in a person’s life. But taking a moment to stop and ask how they’re doing shows you’re paying attention and that you care. Those three magic words — “Are you OK?” — can make a person feel seen and appreciated.

“Employers,” Bernie writes, “please understand that most people are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Burning the candle at both ends. Trying to make ends meet. Kids, homework, spouses, significant others, elder parents, mortgage payments, auto repairs, etc.”

By taking steps to recognize employees for their hard work and take some of the weight off their shoulders, you can earn their loyalty and their trust. Bernie’s actions were so powerful because they let his employee know that she was valued and that her well-being, and the well-being of her family, came first. 

That’s the kind of company people want to work for — one that makes work feel more human. 

Supporting working parents is a key to retaining them 

Bernie’s story also underscores the struggle that countless working parents face in trying to fit their lives around the demands of their jobs. For example, if their company lacks paid parental leave, many employees have no choice but to return to work within days of their little one’s arrival. And with nowhere else to go, some mothers have had to pump breast milk in cupboards or under their desks.

These challenges make it difficult for parents to even remain in the workforce, let alone remain productive. 

To help support and retain working parents, some forward-thinking companies are going one step further than offering generous parental leave. Patagonia, for example, is one of only a handful of major companies that offer subsidized onsite childcare. Since a significant portion of a new parent’s wages may go toward childcare, this can help reduce the financial burden of returning to work, while also simplifying the logistics of everything from feeding to pick-up and drop-off. 

Programs like this aren’t free for companies, even when employees are paying some form of tuition — but they can pay off in the form of lower turnover, happier, more productive employees, and bigger pools of candidates. If you want your employees to invest their time and talents in your company for the long run, you have to be willing to invest in them. 

After all, as Bernie writes, “Loyalty goes both ways.”

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