Is it Ever OK for a Leader to “Cross the Line”?

There’s been a storm of controversy these days about the use of employer sponsored wellness programs as a way to get a handle on sky-rocketing health care costs. The proponents of this strategy argue that employee health care costs are a business issue, they’re controllable to some extent, and that wellness programs can only be a win-win for the employee and the company.

Companies are also offering financial fitness programs, recognizing that if employees are having personal financial problems, these problems can spill over to the workplace and affect job performance.

The critics of these programs say companies have no right to intrude into an employee’s personal lives; that these kinds of big brother programs and policies are “crossing the line”.

While I find it to be a fascinating debate (and I’m right in the middle of it at my own company), I find it just as interesting to ponder the implications for leaders.

Here’s the scenario: let’s say you’re a great leader. (So, that rules out all of the idiot bosses out there – we’re not talking about them). And as a great leader, you fully embrace your responsibility for the success of your organization and your employees.

As a great leader, you also genuinely care about your employees. They’re not just disposable human capital assets or resources – they are people, with families, part of a community, as well as an important and valued member of your team. They matter to you.

What if you’re aware of some kind of behavior or issue that’s having or could have a detrimental personal impact on the employee?

Now we all know what the HR policy, management 101 answer would be: “it’s none of a manager’s business as long as it’s not having an impact on job performance.”

But is that an acceptable answer for the kind of scenario and leader I’ve described? “Yes, it’s OK that your employee is flushing their lives down the crapper, as long as they’re hitting those productivity targets!”

What if you’re watching your employee smoke, overeat, not exercise, drink too much, etc…. and you’re thinking to yourself, “omg, old Fred’s killing himself, and he’s going to leave his wife a widow and his kids without a Dad?” As a great leader, is it OK to have a heart to heart with him about his habits?

What if you’re watching one of your employees drown in dept, not contribute anything to her 401K, and compulsively max out her charge cards on lavish toys and entertainment? Would it be OK to sit her down and counsel her on responsible prudent financial management?

How about if you’ve gotten to know one of your employee’s family, and you find out he’s been a frequent escort service customer (“Elliot, are you out of your freaking mind!?”)?

Or you notice one of your employees is been consistently “down in the dumps”, and you wish they could be happy?

How about if you were convinced that if your employee would only improve their sloppy appearance that it would translate to greater success (yes, studies have shown that looks do matter – watch out for the ugly police)?

Perhaps it’s helpful to look at this as an employee too: if you had a great leader for a manager (with a trusting relationship), how you react if your manager approached you on one of these topics?

I’m genuinely torn on this (shocker, no “10 ways to do this or that” list). For the most part, I’ve stayed on the safe and proper side of the line, and maybe dipped a toe over now and then on a rare occasion.

How about you? I’d love to hear from managers, employees, executive coaches (the same question could apply to you too, unless you market yourself as a “life coach”), and HR pros.