Time to Buck Up and Stop Enabling Problem Employees
Enabling is doing for others what they are capable of doing for themselves. The origin of the word comes from the treatment of substance abuse. Friends and family make excuses for unacceptable behaviors. They might call the alcoholic's boss to say they are sick with the flu when they are really hung over, or they refer to a teenager's drug use as “just a phase.”
The use of the word “enabling” has expanded beyond addiction and into the workplace. Thinking that they are helping or being kind, dental leaders ignore bad behavior and performance problems. Here’s one example I’ve heard on many occasions: your hygienist has a habit of retreating to the lunch room when she has a no-show or open slot in her schedule. You are annoyed that she’s reading a magazine when she could be assisting teammates with their workload but you don’t say anything. After all, she’s a good producer and you don’t want to upset her. You overlook her actions despite the fact that your frustration is mounting.
Over time you might decide to address the issue. In the morning huddle you make a blanket statement about how “we need to help each other out more,” hoping that she’ll know you’re talking to her. She doesn’t catch your drift, and nothing changes. What’s worse is that other staff notice the hygienist getting away with this. They see her as a diva and your lack of action as favoritism. They feel resentful. This leads to potential turf battles and escalating conflict. At the very least, the morale of the office declines.
When you ignore wrong actions, you demonstrate a laissez faire attitude on rules and office standards. Ultimately things can get too far out of control, and when you blow up and finally take action you play out as the “bad guy.” Ms. Diva’s behavior is the lesser of the problems now, because you come across as overly harsh due to all that unexpressed anger.
Remember, enabling is doing things for someone else that they CAN and SHOULD be doing for themselves. You are not being kind or helpful when you avoid important conversations, because you prevent the other person from experiencing the consequences of their own actions. More importantly, you deprive the person from fully reaching their own potential. When you address problems quickly and constructively, you allow people to recognize and accept the responsibilities and consequences of their own choices, rather than enabling the continuance of unacceptable behaviors to the detriment of everyone involved.
The University of Virginia published the following questions on enabling. How many “yes” answers do you have?
1. Do you often become frustrated or angry at the inappropriate behavior of a problem employee?
Take accountability for any enabling behaviors you have. Stop trying to fix others, take control of yourself, and have the courage to change the things you can. And if you don’t know where to start, call me and we’ll develop a plan together.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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