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The Unguarded Employee

The Unguarded Employee

 03 June 2022  |    Durga Madhusudhanan

A part and parcel of engaging people at the workplace include dealing with attitudes of defence and resistance, not only from your co-workers but also attitudes of your own.

A part and parcel of engaging people at the workplace include dealing with attitudes of defence and resistance, not only from your co-workers but also attitudes of your own. We, as consultants, come across such defences and resistances quite often and tackling these behaviours begin with recognising these behaviours. 

In the space of employee functioning, when employees are not given the opportunity to face their emotions and address their vulnerabilities, their ego takes over making them susceptible to strong emotional reactions or outbursts. In order to defend themselves from being bruised by unpleasant feelings of embarrassment or shame, the ego engages in defensive, unhealthy conduct in the workplace. 

More often than not, we find that people avoid situations of conflict or simple transactions of asking for favours/ help solely because these situations demand vulnerability put forth, which arises discomfort and agitation. We also identify natural and human insecurities taking over rationality where people tie their self-worth to productivity and on bad days assume that they bring no value to the organisation. This potentially leads to anxiety and feeling of lack of respect, resulting finally in suppressing own’s authentic self

In such circumstances, the influx of low self-worth and other unhelpful emotions causes people to fill voids by taking undue credit, displaying the need to be right all the time or often comparing themselves to others. 

On more personal fronts, people may even fear not living up to others' expectations, or confronting failure, which prevents them from taking on challenging tasks or thinking out of the box leading to eventually sticking to the status quo. 

Defensive actions that are repeated and sustained can destroy an organization from the inside out. They have the potential to become the "standard" in the long run, resulting in cultures that are risk-averse, blame-oriented, and overly reward individual achievement above organizational effectiveness. Further, we observe how easy it is to write off these deeper behaviours as simply a bad mood, or moodiness or even judge them into aloofness. What remains critical here is to remain curious and receptive in such situations and read between the lines to understand the roots. 

So how do we deal with these behaviours? 

Organizations must strive to create a culture of openness that regularly keeps track of the emotional needs of employees and offers healthy outlets for employees' negative emotions. Additionally, they must train employees to mentally prepare them to face their vulnerabilities, and this is not restricted to one-way, non contextualised manuals. 

On an individual level, facing vulnerabilities entail pausing to consider the following questions: "What feelings are leading me to avoidance?", “What am I able to influence?”, “What do I have to accept that I can't change?". And remember that 'It's okay to let your guard down'. Additionally, it is recommended to create a culture that encourages healthy feedback between employees and allows them the clarity of knowing how exactly can they bring value to the organization.  

Insecurity, irresponsibility, and unhappiness are all signs of defensive conduct. While you could spend all day trying to figure out why, unless you're in the counselling business, odds are you won't have the time to do so. Nevertheless, these are a component of most organizations, and using the above-mentioned tactics can help you address these behaviours. 

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