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Ask Doctor W. Nation: a colleague returns from disability leave

Office chemistry peaked as a reader’s teammates rallied in response to a valued colleague’s absence. As the colleague returns to work, should the office be concerned about losing its newfound chemistry?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
Kevin Durant is not mentioned in this article. This article has nothing to do with Kevin Durant and his impending return to the Warriors’ lineup.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Doctor W. Nation is here to guide you through the trials and tribulations of life outside of basketball. The following advice is in no way related to the pressing issues facing Dub Nation. Any perceived connections between the text of this column and the Warriors or any NBA players or teams is entirely coincidental. Honestly, I’m not sure how you’d even make a connection. It’s preposterous to presume that anything in this column relates to the Golden State Warriors.

Q: One of my top performing colleagues, “Devin,” recently went out on disability for several weeks. We struggled at first without Devin, but we quickly gained our bearings to the point where we’re producing at the best rate of the year. While we are looking forward to Devin’s return to the office, we can’t help but be concerned that our newfound chemistry will be disrupted. Should we be worried?

Before going any further, allow me to say that I’m so happy to hear that Devin is expected to recover. That must be a relief to your organization!

Now, let’s examine what happened during the weeks that Devin was away. One or possibly two of your colleagues must have stepped in to fill Devin’s place, right? How well did those colleagues do during Devin’s absence? Were those colleagues responsible for the improvements in chemistry and production? Would you prefer to keep those players in Devin’s role once he returns?

If that’s the case, you’d have a legitimate cause for concern. For example, if a hypothetical Raymond filled in for a sick Davey and output increased significantly due to Raymond, then management may have to decide whether to give Davey’s shift to Raymond permanently. Hopefully Davey would be cool about it in that scenario and team chemistry would remain positive.

On the other hand, if the improvements you’re experiencing were not a direct result of the contributions of Devin’s replacements, which I suspect is the case, then what you have is a situation where other teammates stepped up their performance levels to make up for Devin’s absence. This is an encouraging response to what must have been a disheartening loss!

If other teammates are producing at higher levels, Devin will be able to return to work with limited pressure to carry as great a load as he once did. And if his performance is generally better than that of the colleagues filling in for him over the past several weeks, we could only expect that Devin will increase productivity even further by filling the roles they have recently played and perhaps expanding upon them.

Devin is bound to recognize and appreciate any changes in the chemistry during his absence. The question becomes Devin’s willingness to defer to others even though he may be the best performer at many tasks. Has Devin demonstrated this quality in the past? For example, perhaps with a former employer Devin tolerated a task-hogging colleague, patiently waiting for his opportunity to contribute to the team’s goals.

I suspect that Devin is a team player, which means that he’ll accept any changes that lead to better success for the team overall. If this means that other teammates maintain more pronounced roles on the team, Devin will likely support those teammates wholeheartedly. Devin likely recognizes that the collective goal of the team is far more important than individual accolades along the way, thus setting up your team for continued success upon Devin’s return.


Should our reader worry about office chemistry as Devin returns to work?

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