Why are you late for work again, Frankie?

Well, my babysitter, my sister-in-law (she is “free”—that is why I can afford her), she did not answer the door this morning and I’m wondering if she is shooting up again. She knows my car is overheating these days, but still she doesn’t answer. Next thing I know, my car is overheated, and I don’t have any minutes on my cell to give you a call. What do you think is wrong with my car? Is that the alternator when it overheats? I’m just 10 minutes late. I will get right to work.  

When your employee lives in the tyranny of the moment, a daily instability in which there are not enough resources for today, let alone tomorrow, your employee is solving issues for today, all day long.  Your employee lives in an environment of survival and relationships.

How else does life in this environment show up in the workplace?

Issues around language

A survey conducted by ProLiteracy states that among U.S. adults over 16 years of age, 14% read at or below the fifth-grade reading level, 29% read at the eighth-grade level, and 43% live in poverty. Employees who live in instability use between 400–800 words, along with many nonverbal forms of communication. Thus, such employees may have problems with forms, directions, policies, and more. If you, an employer, know this is an issue, you can address it by changing up your documents and altering the way you communicate.

Hidden rules

Hidden Rules are the unspoken cues and habits of a group. We see patterns of these rules in the environments of different economic classes. A good example is time. How much time is there in a little while or later or when I get around it? For an entry-level employee, time is about now, but managers and executives measure time in terms of the future. In the workplace, these perspectives collide. As employers, we need to define what we mean by a little while or later so our work expectations can be met.


Daily instability occurs because of a lack of resources. The more resources an employee has, the more they can contribute in the workplace, at home, and in life. Resources include: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, social capital/support systems, relationships/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, language/formal register, integrity/trust, and motivation/persistence. One employee told me that he worked to have money to drink and use drugs. After investigating the resources through a class called Getting Ahead, he looked at what he wanted to accomplish in life and built up his resources to get there.

Having lower resources and limited language experience and not knowing the hidden rules of stability, employees will bring their lives into work. This interrupts workflow and causes communication misunderstandings and feelings of disrespect from entry-level employees. Making a few small changes can bring big returns to your business.