There is a fine line between helping staff members with workplace problems and enabling them in ways that promote persistence of the problem. Of course, as a manager, you should help staff members who need it. However, you should not help staff members in ways that allow them to continue their unproductive behavior while you or others are saddled with their work. It's our natural instinct to reach out and help someone having problems. However, your enabling behaviors may have the opposite of its intended effect.
Here are some common workplace problems and how to avoid enabling the people causing them.
Giving people one more chance, then another and another
It is easy to fall into this trap with problem staff members who are nice people. However, you shouldn’t fall into the habit of repeatedly coming to someone’s rescue. They shouldn’t be able to escape the consequences of their problem behavior. Whatever their problem behavior is, missing deadlines, etc., by enabling them you permit them to avoid the consequences of their problem behavior. Your own enabling tactics can cause difficulties with other coworkers if you reassign the problem employees’ responsibilities to them. Alternatively, you cause yourself problems if you take on their work yourself.
If you ignore the problem, you and your work group may develop a bad reputation as the problem employee’s behavior can reduce productivity and team morale. Some managers prefer to avoid confrontations hoping the problem will go away. Unfortunately, it is more likely that the problems will continue and fester. A manager’s avoidance behavior is seldom productive.
Accepting problem employees’ rationalizations
Often problem employees will rationalize their unproductive or disruptive behaviors. While managers can accept such rationalizations once, they should inform employees that their behavior will not continue to be tolerated. They should suggest in-house counseling if it is available or perhaps help from a therapist particularly if the company health plan will cover some of the costs.
If the behavior and their rationalizations continue, managers should take disciplinary action. Often such action is described in the company’s employee manual. As the manager, you should consult with your supervisor to obtain their support and advice in how to handle the situation.
One behavior that employees frequently rationalize is missing deadlines. I once had a technician who continually missed deadlines due to his own unproductive behavior. He was constantly distracted and shifting from one activity to another without finishing anything. To add to the problem, he was a slow learner. My coaching wasn’t helping. Finally, I gave him a month to complete a project he should have been able to do in two weeks. With the support of my manager, I informed him that if he failed to complete the project by the deadline he would be fired for cause. I became a bit of a nag as I was frequently reminding him of the deadline. With less than weeks left before his deadline he asked for my approval to take a two-week in-house engineering course unrelated to his work rather than completing project. I turned him down reminding him of his deadline. He became very angry. When the deadline arrived and the work was far from completed, I had to fire him.
I expected my staff members to be annoyed with me since the technician was a nice guy. However, there was no disagreement at all. They were sick and tired of being saddled with extra work because of his repeated failures in meeting deadlines.