Treating each other with respect and common decency should be a given. It shouldn’t matter what a person’s title or position is; nobody should ever be yelled at or denigrated at work. And, of course, it makes sense to create a pleasant, positive work environment. It’s not just healthy for worker attitudes, but it’s also the human thing to do. I understand all that and agree with it.
But have we gone so far trying to keep things positive and nice that sometimes we’re mollycoddling employees? I’ve been told I may be blowing things out of proportion, but am I the only one who thinks that babying employees has gotten out of hand?
Let’s start with feedback. No doubt, you were taught to sandwich negative feedback between two positives so the negative is easier for people to take. But if the employee has just been told their positives outweigh their negatives by two to one, they focus on the two positives instead of the one negative and miss the main point. I submit sandwiching as Exhibit 1 in my case that we’re babying employees, and that it’s not good for the business.
For Exhibit 2, I present the obsession with pronouns to keep people off the spot when they should be on it. Case in point, you are not supposed to say “you” when you’re telling me I failed. As the supervisor, you’re supposed to share responsibility to take some of the pressure off of me, so you have to say “we” as in, “What are we going to do to fix this?” Since I’m the one with the problem and the only person who can decide what I’m willing to do to fix it, how does injecting “we” into the conversation make me more accountable? Wouldn’t it be better to be clear that I am responsible for solving the problem?
Then, Exhibit 3 is the all-staff meeting you attended where it was obvious you were getting the PR department’s version of company performance. The exec, or your manager, tried so hard to keep you from feeling discouraged that she made even the bad news sound good. You walked away thinking everything was business as usual when the company was really in dire straits. If the boss had simply talked straight with you about the situation, you and your teammates would have doubled down to help out. Instead, they babied you—thinking you couldn’t handle it—and you weren’t able to pitch in.
Managers and HR policy makers should ride a guilt trip in Exhibits 4 and 5 when they baby employees by giving a little merit pay to a poor performer to keep up his morale or pay an attendance bonus to keep employees coming to work. While getting a raise may give him a morale boost, don’t expect a weak employee to work harder or smarter when you just paid him more for doing shoddy work. And a bonus for showing up? Maybe employees should start coming in ten minutes late and niggle another bonus out of management.
So, am I off base when I say some companies baby their employees too much?
I know leaders can find it hard to be both direct and compassionate with employees at the same time, and I also recognize that too many training programs and management books teach leaders to manage employee morale by spinning information. Both contribute to employees being babied.
If you expect employees to be responsible, you have to stop babying them and start treating them like the adults they are. You don’t have to be harsh or cruel, but when there’s a problem, somebody has to call it what it is, and somebody has to work to find a solution. It takes straightforward communications and leadership to do that well.
Effective straight talk—however difficult—helps individuals, and the workforce overall, grow in their capacity to contribute and keep the business profitable by allowing people to be accountable. That’s why corporate babying is not just a disservice to employees, it’s also a disservice to the business. And, in at least one humble opinion, the sooner a company grows out of it, the better off it will be.
Ascent Management Consulting is found at www.ascentmgt.com and specializes in productivity improvement through performance turnarounds, leadership coaching, and appraisal-less performance management.