Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m having trouble with a woman who works for me. I run a small accounting firm where Greta has been a valued employee for eight years. I don’t know as much about the Five Elements as I do about accounting, but I suspect Greta is a Metal. She has been on time, thorough, precise, and steady the whole time she has worked for us. She also remembers birthdays and listens when people have problems, so is well liked in the firm. However, earlier this year Greta had her first child and since returning from maternity leave, she has made several minor mistakes in her work, seems preoccupied, and has allowed her desk to become more messy than usual. She has a major thing for sugar now, too, and actually brings cookies for the office. I’m concerned about this change as it has required me to be much more hands on than I used to be and I don’t like the distraction. I want to focus on innovations for our business. Is this a motherhood thing for Greta or something else? More importantly, will she ever get back to the stellar employee she once was? I’d hate to fire her, but it may come to that. Signed: Responsible in Rochester
Dear Responsible: You are facing a situation that many employers face when an employee becomes a mother: Things change. Greta has a new top priority now, which is her child. She also has hormones flooding her body that reinforce this shift in priorities. She is bound to be different, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remain a valuable employee. You don’t mention how long Greta has been back from maternity leave. If it’s only a few weeks, I suggest you cut her some slack a while longer. She is most likely running on fewer hours sleep than usual since babies wake often during the night. She is also trying to juggle the numerous demands associated with her changed family and still do an excellent job.
Excellence matters to Metals, as you have seen over the past eight years with Greta. And that hasn’t changed for her; she will still do her best for you. But you will need to give her time to make order out of the wonderful chaos her baby has added to her life. As a Metal, Greta will find the process and structure necessary to juggle her work and family life successfully because that’s what Metals do. They excel at creating a hierarchy that allows everything to work smoothly. However, right now Greta isn’t just a pure Metal. She is a Metal with a strong secondary Earth. Let me explain.
Family and motherhood sit in the Earth element. All of us, men and women alike, become more “Earthy” when we have children. A deep and lasting connection matters to Earths. Taking care of people matters to Earths. Being needed matters to Earths. This honorary stepping into Earth that happens with a family is nature’s way of stacking the deck in favor of children when they are young and helpless. Hormones help with this, too, of course.
You ask if Greta will ever get back to stellar employee she was, and by this I think you mean will she return to her pre-mom persona. The answer is that, as a mom, Greta will always be a Metal/Earth in some ways; going forward her child will probably always matter more than her job. But before you fire her, let me suggest that this new Greta isn’t really that much different from the old Greta. I suspect that Greta has always been a Metal/Earth based on her pre-pregnancy tendency to remember birthdays and listen to people’s problems in the office. The fact that she started a family also suggests that she has a secondary Earth because Metals often aren’t interested in family. And the fact that Earth was strong in Greta to begin with is good news for you. It means that her current situation of making minor mistakes, seeming preoccupied, and keeping a messy desk is probably more based on adjusting to the demands of motherhood than a permanent change in her approach to life. Once she gets her systems in place, she will likely return to the valued employee she has been for years. Oh, and the sugar thing will pass, too.
Finally, I suspect that you are a Metal, too, but given your preference for solitude and not engaging much with your employees, I suspect you have a Water secondary. If so, your primary relationship with Greta is Metal to Metal, which would be easy given you both value hierarchy: You’re the boss, she’s the employee. But your Water might not be thrilled with the extra Earth Greta brings right now because Earth and Water relate on the Controlling Cycle. It’s a case of your secondaries not relating well at the moment.
To that point, this seems like an excellent opportunity to share how Metal is affected by each of the other four elements when they step in as a secondary. As we’ve done with the other elements, we’ll take a Metal stereotype and see how it’s impacted by each of the other four elements in a secondary position. A useful Metal stereotype to consider for this comparison is the systematic engineer easily describing how and why everything will work well.
Let’s consider how different secondaries will refine this Metal stereotype. In each case, the Metals will still be a precise, kind, and exceedingly wise individual who focuses on the past, appreciates structure and schedules, and dislikes clutter, but:
- Metals with Water secondaries will be slightly less stuck on their tight, rigid schedules and more willing to be flexible about time. Metals with Water secondaries will also be more interested in applying their wisdom to create new ideas. The stereotype for a Metal with a Water secondary could be: The systematic engineer easily describing how and why everything will work well because she has new ideas to blend with her historic wisdom.
- Metals with Wood secondaries will be less likely to focus exclusively on the past and more interested in future issues. Metals with Wood secondaries will also be more interested in expanding their businesses. The stereotype for a Metal with a Wood secondary could be: The systematic engineer easily describing how and why everything will work well because he has additional resources at his disposal to do the job.
- Metals with Fire secondaries will be less inclined to go it alone and more likely to make industry connections. Metals with Fire secondaries will also enjoy making sales pitches and presentations. The stereotype for a Metal with a Fire secondary could be: The systematic engineer easily describing how and why everything will work well because she has the support of several important new connections.
- Metals with Earth secondaries will be less likely to focus their attention solely on prestigious projects and more inclined to champion projects that help the greater good. Metals with Earth secondaries will also tolerate some clutter and include family and friends in their daily life. The stereotype for a Metal with an Earth secondary could be: The systematic engineer easily describing how and why everything will work well because he has his son working with him now.
I hope you recognize yourself and Greta in these descriptions. I also hope they give you comfort that, in time, Greta will definitely return to her Metal self as an employee. In fact, it is highly likely that the richness of the Earthy mothering experience will make her a better employee than she was before. Ultimately, all that Earth feeds her Metal.