By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I have an employee on my team who is charming and always trying to get me to give him extra goodies. He wants extra time with me, special treatment or for me to bend the rules for him. I'm exhausted trying to manage him. How do I let him know his gravy train is over?
A. Let him know the gravy train is over by helping him realize he is in the workplace and not part of a family where he is the indulged or neglected child.
Many adults came from homes in which they either got way too much or way too little from their parents. Both types of adults will expect their bosses (workplace parents) will bend over backwards to make them feel special.
If you were raised by people who treated you as a little prince or princess, you go out into the world absolutely expecting the rest of the world to follow suit. If your parents neglected you, you may go out into the world feeling the world now has to make up for the early deprivation you experienced. Most bosses don't know employee project parenting issues on them and they don't see this problem coming at all.
If you are a manager or supervisor, welcome to the reality of workplace parenting. No one told you that being a leader in a company will mean every employee will paint their unfinished issues with their parents on your face. If you consider all the weird behavior you've seen in employees, the fact they see you as mom or dad may start to make a lot of sense.
The problem is you are their boss not their parent. If you want to end these irrational employee expectations you need to see what is happening. You then need to be able and willing to disappoint your employees.
Next time your employee charmingly cajoles you to bend a rule, make sure you are in private, repeat back the request, state that you know this will be disappointing and you can no longer bend the rules for them.
Now the hard part: Walk away and let your employee look heartbroken or angry. Yes, you'll feel like a jerk, but no one can be effective in the workplace without repeatedly disappointing other people's unreasonable demands.
The trouble with the gravy train you've provided for your "special" employee is that no amount of special treatment can fill his black hole of entitlement. No matter what you've done or will do, he will simply keep increasing his demands. If it helps, realize he does this with everyone not just you.
Next time you have an employee who nicely asks you to break the rules, realize you've received a ticket for the entitlement gravy train again. Don't RSVP by breaking the rules even once.
If you have other employees that never ask for a favor and honestly once in a blue moon make a request, feel free to accommodate them. Just make sure you communicate you'll only do this once. You'll build loyalty from them without changing their normal expectations.
No matter what an awesome manager you are, it is beyond the scope of your job description to parent an employee. Even a good psychotherapist recognizes a big part of their job is to let clients know the psychotherapist is not their mommy.
You can empathize with an employee who has been given too much or too little without perpetuating their distorted view of the world. One of the richest opportunities in the workplace is to grieve our unrealistic expectations of reality so we can be effective. Give your entitled employee a chance to grieve, do the job or find another manager to be his mommy.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com
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This was printed in the July 28, 2013 - August 10, 2013 Edition