Stop Bubble Wrapping Employees

Stop Bubble Wrapping Employees 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Wow have we screwed up the practice of management within our organizations.  I’m not sure when it happened or how it happened, but along the way we decided that our job as managers was to increase the comfort of our employees and to take away any discomfort they may feel in their jobs.

On the surface, you think it sounds like a good idea or even that employees want us to do this, but neither is correct.  What we’ve effectively done in many of our organizations by following this path is the equivalent to wrapping our employees in bubble wrap.  Sure, bubble wrap prevents the employee from getting hurt, but it also prevents them from growing, achieving, and (dare I say) truly engaging with you and their work.

Employees, despite what you think or what they say, don’t want to be coddled.  They want to be successful, proud, to feel accomplishment and growth.  All of the same things you want.  They want to be mentored and coached.  They want to be rewarded when they do great things.  And, they even want feedback so they can get better.

The problem in this equation isn’t the employee.  The employee never demanded being wrapped in bubble wrap.  Management and HR decided this path because it’s easier than delivering on what employees really want.  True development, coaching, and feedback requires conflict and it makes people  uncomfortable in the moment.  There might even be some pain involved from time to time.  We will do almost anything to avoid conflict and we are really squeamish about making other people uncomfortable.  Here’s the thing, discomfort and pain are powerful motivators for growth.  As humans, our survival instincts drive us to move out of situations of discomfort and pain–we take action.  Without that trigger, we often won’t take the first step towards growth.

Being a great manager, coach, or HR pro requires that you understand how important it is to walk into the conflict with people and then to let them be uncomfortable.  Stop trying to fix everything and take away the discomfort.  If you just stay out of their way, they will make it happen on their own.  Your job is to provide the right questions for them to ponder and the resources they need once they decide to take action.

Go now.  Burn the bubble wrap.

  • Melissa Fairman

    Excellent post Jason. Another symptom of bubble wrapping is the tight lid kept on information. Many times people see the signs of big change coming but no communication from leaders, which leads to endless speculation and wasted productivity. When there are no legal ramifications why not talk with people about possible changes? They likely have excellent ideas because they do the work everyday.

  • Jeffrey Cufaude

    Reminds me of my graduate work when we were studying Nevitt Sanford and his construct of challenge and support. Too much support and there is no growth. Too much challenge without enough support and an individual shuts down. Calibration is critical.

  • Rachael

    Thank you Jason – I send out a management article to my team every morning (a couple of yours have been in there) but this morning we all decided to have a debate and it took me a little while to get over the initial threat response and realise that this is one of the reasons why I do this – so we can get used to having different poitns of view and learning from it… 🙂

  • Jason Lauritsen

    Absolutely right, Melissa. Managers will keep information from employees under the false rationale that the employees "can't handle the truth" when, in fact, the real reason is that the manager "can't handle the follow up questions." Employees are far more able to handle things than we give them credit for. Great insight. Thank you.

  • Jason Lauritsen

    Great point, Jeffrey. I'm not sure though that challenge and support are at odds. I think it's lot's of both, but I think that it's absolutely the case that if you provide too much challenge with the accompanying support, there will likely be failure.

  • Patty Tanji

    I say we throw out all the old models and begin anew! Next time around we tap into the unlimited potential of everyone in the organization. And for God sakes, get rid of those damn square tables where you can't see anyone but the 'head' of the table and those people across from you. Circles I say! Circles! Well, its not much, but its a start.

  • Evan Downey

    Outstanding article. Once again, I'm left shaking my head in confusion at the "private sector", as I saw plenty of confrontation during my military career. It was just understood that you had to meet expectations or there would be consequences. Good leaders don't run from these confrontations, but understand that you have to meet them with honesty, integrity and an genuine concern for correcting the issue and putting the individual back on the track to being the best and most productive employee they are capable of being.

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