Handling employee self sabotaging behaviours at work place
You are a regional head of a company. You have recently hired a new center manager. His credentials are excellent and his work experience speaks for itself. But at every turn he seems to sabotage himself. For example he will give a terrific presentation but will come in stained clothes, he will generate dynamic and innovative ideas for product launch but will forget to calculate the risk factors, will send in reports regularly but will forget to arrange the papers in order, or while addressing delegates he will forget to acknowledge the key person.
You are aware of the organizational dynamics and how this can adversely affect his job security as well as tarnish your reputation. He is a talented man, not easily found and you want to make the best of the situation with a little tweaking if possible, so you bring this up with him. When you do so, he readily acknowledges his mistakes and promises to try harder. But its sounds like deja vue to you and past experiences speak louder than the words that you are hearing from him. You already know that the forces are beyond his control. You feel frustrated and upset and wonder what could possibly motivate him to be more proactive in these behaviours. It is apparent to both of you that his behaviours have nothing to do with his abilities or intelligence, but they remain maladaptive. But not known to both of you is that these so called maladaptive behaviours may actually have some benefits, perhaps in a way that he is himself unaware, being in the unconscious. That in some way they represent a solution to an internal conflict or difficulties and the reason he seems to be unable to give them up however much he tries is because they protect him. Because his maladaptive behaviour has motives outside his conscious awareness, his conscious decisions remain unsupported and therefore fail. Were he aware of these unconscious motives he would’ve been able to change them.
These maladaptive behaviours are our unconscious minds signal to our conscious mind to pay attention to these unresolved conflicts and to heal them. However absurd it may sound, this is our minds defense system to heal, just like fever is our body’s defense to kill antibodies. Fever is just a symptom or a clue to underlying illness as is maladaptive behaviour is a clue to underlying conflict. It is universal phenomenon. What keeps him from achieving his dreams to succeed? The reasons are the same as any other individual. These same reasons makes a business delay income tax returns, one from not going to the dentist till the pain gets unbearable, a student from not studying, another person from being late every day at work.
Consider this, that while on a conscious level he might want to succeed very much, but on a deeper unconscious level he may be terrified of doing so. Maybe succeeding at the managerial level may take him into uncharted territories. He may be unaware of his fears of competition. For example, if he has an elder brother who was always viewed as more intelligent so although he did poorly in studies he excelled in sports and they never crossed each others path till financial success came into picture. Although he was street smart along with being intelligent and is a combination for success, succeeding at work would be outshining his brother and he maybe fearful of doing so. Maybe earning more money would represent that his mother will not be pleased or that it is incompatible with his self image of being a duffer.
It is obvious that whatever the psychological reasons are, they can not compensate for the corporate damage and you cannot expect them to protect him. Just discussing these also may indicate to him that he is not accountable for his actions and you do not want to do so. More importantly you don’t want to corrupt the environment of the corporate and pass on wrong messages to other colleagues and subordinates, but nor can you ignore them. His behaviour converts individual difficulties into organizational dysfunction. What you need to do is discuss his troubling behaviour with him and tell him firmly that he must find a way to change it. You empathize with him about his frustrations on his inability to change his self sabotaging behaviour but insist on changing them. If you find yourself getting too involved in personal dynamics or internal dynamics of his mind, repeatedly draw boundaries by telling him that they maybe important insights but that does not change the corporate facts and for the sake of work relations you rather avoid getting into them, as often employees regret such personal conversations later on. Instead after taking him into confidence talk to the Human Resource department and include some coaching for personal development. In some cases where these behaviours are resistant to change, the best tool for gaining self awareness is psychotherapy. Make him aware of where these services are available through the employee assistance program. Conversations such as these are always difficult and require a lot of tact but are essential for maintaining employee morale and relationships.


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