Employees are stressed, fragile, and still recovering from all the challenges and life changes ushered in during the pandemic. Employers, striving to retain employees and keep businesses afloat despite inflation and supply chain issues, are making a frequent HR mistake.
This mistake occurs when good intentions triumph over good business practices. From an abundance of compassion and a fear of losing employees at a time when competing for talent is difficult, employers bend and yield in ways they normally wouldn’t. They make this mistake because they think there’s no other choice.
The Frequent HR Mistake You’re Making without Even Realizing It
This frequent HR mistake is coddling employees.
Coddling sounds harsh. But it’s the accurate word for what’s happening in many organizations. To coddle means to treat tenderly, to handle indulgently or with excessive gentleness, or to pamper.
You may be surprised to see coddling labeled a mistake by the owner of a company called People First Productivity Solutions. But putting people first does not translate into coddling them. Just the opposite: Putting people first means ennobling them, challenging them, and supporting their continual growth and expanded capacity. People who are coddled will be stunted in their growth.
Coddling employees is an extreme and ineffective over-reaction to Pandemic PTSD, the Great Resignation and the Quiet Quit. If you’re coddling employees, you’re inadvertently:
- Shifting the workload to others, whether it’s employees who are stronger or managers who know the work has to get done somehow.
- Anticipating, accepting and rewarding underperformance. When you indulge employees’ fragility and make it okay for them to do less than what’s typically required, you condition them to demand more and deliver less.
- Signaling a lack of confidence in employees’ resilience, strength, and potential to dig deep. What employees need is encouragement. “Yes, you can” lifts people more than “I agree, you probably can’t.”
- Spoiling employees (and not in a good way). Ask with bratty children, indulgence that stops the negative behavior in the moment also ensures its recurrence.
- Depriving employees of career advancement opportunities. If resentment builds, you’ll harbor negative feelings about the employee long-term. When employees are “protected” from challenging or unappealing work, they miss out on opportunities to grow, learn, and demonstrate what they can do in the face of adversity.
How can you tell if you’re making the frequent HR mistake of coddling employees? Ask yourself these 10 questions:
- Do you ignore inappropriate behaviors?
- Are you letting underperformers slide?
- Are some doing more because others are doing less than their fair share?
- Do you make exceptions because you’re afraid of being understaffed?
- Have you abandoned company policies related to absenteeism, tardiness, and the like?
- When employees give notice, do you counter-offer to keep them (even those with poor performance)?
- Is constructive feedback being withheld to avoid upsetting any employee?
- Are you delaying training, holding off on stretch assignments, or otherwise maintaining the status quo so employees will not be over-burdened?
- Do you go to great lengths to match employees to their favorite tasks while scrambling to offload tasks they don’t like to others?
- Has your generosity with exceptions and tolerance of excessive demands impacted the business in negative ways?
If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, you’re coddling employees in ways that serve no one well. This is a slippery slope, too, that will only become more difficult to correct.
But What about Burnout?
Yes, research reports higher levels of workplace burnout (including work-from-home employees). But it’s too big a leap to go that finding to a conclusion that the only solution is coddling employees.
Burnout is defined, by the World Health Organization, as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The WHO classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon in 2019 (pre-pandemic).
Note the second part of the definition that says “stress that has not been successfully managed.” It begs this follow-up question: who is responsible for successfully managing that stress?
Employers bear some responsibility like ensuring safe environments, preventing harassment, and providing adequate resources and clear expectations.
Employees share responsibility for managing their stress. Making healthy lifestyle choices, voicing their needs, and seeking professional help are ways that employees can reduce their own stress (and reduce feelings of burnout).
In a recent coaching engagement, one of our coaches was asked to work with a mid-level manager who was suffering extreme burnout. Over time, it became apparent that the employee was drinking heavily and getting an average of 4 hours sleep per night. Her long hours were the result of low productivity more than increased workload. These issues were not the responsibility of the employer. When the employee took charge of her own issues, she made changes that successfully managed her stress. She was no longer complaining of burnout and blaming the organization.
Gallup research reveals the top five reasons for burnout, according to employees.
- Unfair treatment at work.
- Unmanageable workload that persists over time.
- Unclear communication from managers.
- Lack of manager support.
- Unreasonable time pressure.
Employers should guard against these five factors. Most are easily fixable, so long as managers are adequately trained and expectations for managers are clear. However, the perception of these issues will likely be magnified if there’s a history of coddling employees in your organization.
Burnout isn’t something that should be ignored. It causes people to feel
- depleted or exhausted
- mentally distant from their job
- negatively about their work
- cynically about their job
- reduced professional effectiveness
How to Alleviate Burnout AND Increase Productivity
Without coddling employees, you can engage, enable and ennoble them. Doing so will reduce burnout while also increasing productivity. Employee retention will likely improve, too.
Here are five fast fixes for burnout that turn things around. Some of these may be counterintuitive. You may wonder how giving employees more or more difficult work can reduce burnout. Keep reading! It really does work that way.
Offer employees challenges and growth opportunities
Boredom at work is often the real culprit causing burnout. When employees are given incremental challenges that are just slight stretches beyond their current skill level, those challenges make the work exciting and interesting.
When you give employees opportunities to grow and meet higher-level challenges, you’re demonstrating your faith in them. You’re supporting their development by entrusting new work to them.
Offer training for continual growth
Along with new challenges, offer access to a wide variety of training. This need not be expensive or time-consuming. Refer employees to resources like People First Leadership Academy where they can choose from a variety of courses and delivery options to build soft skills, develop as leaders, work on personal effectiveness, or improve their team and collaborative capabilities.
Not all training should be functionally specific or mandated. By offering choices, you’re putting the employee in charge of his/her own development. That’s validating and supports individual interests and career development.
Offer constructive feedback that conveys your support for the employee
Feedback shows you care. You care enough to notice, to take the time to discuss, and to take the risk of a potentially negative response.
Managers need to know how to deliver effective feedback and how to use constructive feedback as a means for developing employees, not just for disciplining them.
Empower employees with inclusivity
All voices in produces big business benefits. In addition to diversity of though, you’ll reduce burnout when you genuinely seek out every individual’s opinion and input. Oftentimes, burnout is the byproduct of feeling like nothing more than a cog in the wheel.
When you are inclusive, you dignify people and stimulate dialogue. You enrich the work experience for everyone. Taking time to listen and letting employees know that you want and need their input is empowering.
Ennoble employees by putting people first
Hyper-focusing on results, KPIs, performance, or processes misses this extremely important point. It’s people who deliver results, perform, implement and follow processes, and make things happen. If you put the emphasis on deliverables instead of the people delivering them, you’re probably contributing to burnout.
If you put people first by making sure they understand how worthy and important they are, the work will get done better, faster, and with less stress and burnout. It’s amazing what people can do when they know someone believes in them and cares about them.