Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Why Do You Baby That Employee?

“It’s easer to just let her have her way than to get her upset and have to deal with the fall-out.”

“If we say anything about it, he’ll sulk for days. It’s just not worth it. ”

“I start every day figuring out what kind of mood she’s in. Sometimes I have to figure it out hourly.”

“Sharon never complains about anything you ask, but Lisa makes life miserable for everyone. So, I give most work to Sharon, then commend her afterwards. That’s good–right?”

Those comments might sound familiar if you work with or supervise someone who is notoriously difficult to deal with. You catch yourself tip-toeing around them, couching every request in elaborately non-offensive language, and generally adjusting many things to keep them happy.

The big question is, “Why are you doing that?” The second question is, “Why should a dozen pleasant employees have to adjust to one or two unpleasant ones?”

The answer for most people is, quite frankly, lack of courage. Pleasant people don’t make you explain, look at you angrily or require you to take a stand about behavior or performance. Unpleasant people require you to be more assertive and stand up for yourself and others, and for many that is not comfortable. But caving in or avoiding isn’t comfortable either and usually results in weeks, months and even years of catering to someone who has done nothing to deserve it.

Pick up a book on parenting sometime–or recall the advice you have given the parents of spoiled, bratty, selfish children–and you will be more effective in dealing with the adult version at work. I jotted down three tips from an article on parenting awhile back. I think they are perfect for many workplaces!

1. Assume your child will cooperate, rather than hesitantly or apologetically asking for a task to be done. The tone of doubt in your voice gives your child reason to believe you will back-off if he or she protests. As a parent you provide at least part of the structure for your child’s time. The more that becomes a matter of fact instead of negotiable, the easier it will be for both you and your child.

2. Every time you do a task for a child because the child becomes angry, cries or suddenly feels sick and can’t do it, you have trained the child as surely as if you purposely taught that technique.

3. Do not require or allow siblings to rescue the child who does not want to do a chore or cooperate with others. It sends the message that the habitually uncooperative child is special but other family members are not. A petulant child can soon become the center of everyone’s efforts to keep him or her happy.

Can you see some application of that parenting advice? I can! With one difference: Even though our children essentially receive a salary and benefits, I doubt they would understand the corelation! By comparison, most employees understand they are paid in exchange for correct work and appropriate behavior. I doubt that your troublesome employee would have acted that way at his or her interview for the job!

The next time you’re tempted to tip toe around an employee to avoid making him or her upset, or you dread talking to an employee about something you know will get an unpleasant reaction, think about parenting advice and do what you need to do without apology.  You may have to deal with a temper tantrum, but at least then you will have something specific to correct–and you will be in charge.

Don’t provide a pacifier to an adult, even one more day. Everyone else will respect you more and eventually even the challenging employee will be more calm. (Or maybe he or she will run away and live in some other organization!)

January 14th, 2009 Posted by | Supervision and Management | 15 comments


  1. Oh Tina! That baby is adorable! My little one used to get looks like that and I just melted! The big baby employees I’ve known looked more like the bottom pic! LOL dk

    Comment by denisek | January 14, 2009

  2. Tina, what a great post today! We have to remind ourselves that we are working with adults and we all are responsible for our actions and duties at work. Excellent!

    Comment by Judith Thomas | January 15, 2009

  3. Tina says:
    Thank you for the comment, Judith! And thank you for all the work you do for so many people! You’re a great asset anyplace–and very well behaved, too. 🙂

    Comment by TLR | January 15, 2009

  4. Oh boy, does this sound familiar! We have an employee who creates havoc every day of the week, almost constantly. Last week she was getting a cup of coffee (her third or fourth) and my boss whispered to me “Is she in a good mood?” I said no. He said, “Oops. Then, will YOU make these copies? I’m just too stressed to handle her today.” I asked him why I should do it when I was in the middle of something, but she had nothing to do. He got upset with me and said, “I don’t expect HER to be a team player, but I do expect it of YOU.”

    I made the copies and felt upset, while she drank coffee for the next twenty minutes and leaned against a counter just looking around the room with a smile. She said, “I’m surveying my kingdom.” I’m still so angry I feel like quitting. Someone you know told me about this article and it’s like you’re writing about this employee and our boss.

    Sorry to vent, but it’s so frustrating.

    Comment by dilbert | January 15, 2009

  5. I work with someone who is a vicious, mean person. She criticizes, mocks and refuses to help anyone. I have stood my ground several times and she usually leaves me alone, but almost everyone else is very nice to her face, because they’re so worried about what she’ll do if they make her angry. She slams drawers and makes faces behind people’s back like a little kid! My supervisor shakes her head and sighs every time the employee’s name is mentioned. She doesn’t give her any work that involves getting along with our clients.

    The worst thing is this….our supervisor ADMITTED to several of us that she gave this woman an outstanding rating last month, so the woman would get her pay raise, like the rest of us. We were shocked and asked why. She said she didn’t want to be in a fight with her because “she fights dirty!” I’ve lost all respect for my supervisor over this.

    It’s a good article though, and I hope a lot of bosses read it and apply it.

    Comment by R.K.S. | January 15, 2009

  6. Hello Tina! As you know I inherited a situation like you describe, with an employee who everyone tiptoed around. With your help and a lot of prayer about it, I think I can say confidently that the situation has changed. I was tempted to give in when the employee got just a little bit better. But, I decided that wasn’t good enough and kept at it.

    So, I wanted to comment and say, even a spoiled brat employee can be taught to behave. And, I think the employee I’m referring to is much happier now that she isn’t in the middle of arguments all the time. Thanks for your help!

    Comment by P.A.H. | January 16, 2009

  7. I’m a supervisor in a state government office who had to deal with a bad tempered employee for three years. She did her first bad behavior on her first day of work and my manager said to give her a break. It was downhill from there.

    The one time we came close to disciplining her for being so rude to a coworker the whole office was upset, she cried and said her husband was sick with the flu and that’s why she had lost her temper that day.

    My manager finally had enough after making excuses for her for three years, and turned to her one day and told her he was tired of overhearing her being snippy and unpleasant to everyone and she’d better stop it and start acting nice to people. She got up and left early and a lawyer contacted HR the next day. My manager took an early retirement to avoid problems and the state gave this rotten person a settlement to make her go away.

    The new manager met with me his first week and said he wanted us to treat people respectfully, but he wanted us to stop problems right away when we notice them developing. We’ve done that with two people and it has worked well. If we had let it go I think we would have two problems in the office, but instead we have a really good place almost all the time.

    I just am writing to let you know I really could relate to your post.

    Comment by Sandy | January 17, 2009

  8. The employee in our office calls herself the Resident Beotch, as though it’s a joke. We put up with her because nothing is going to get better anyway and the rest of us just do our thing and try to avoid coming in contact with her. We wait until she goes to lunch to use the postal meter which is by her door! Our supervisor says she has two groups of employees, us and RB. I guess that is babying her, but it’s easier in the long run than feeling her wrath or having her lie and complain about us, which is what she has done in the past.

    Comment by A. W. | January 17, 2009

  9. Good post and so true.

    Comment by SamIAm | January 17, 2009

  10. Tina, the number of responses to your post show how prevalent this problem is. I’m blessed with a staff which goes far past good, great or excellent, all the way to marvelous.

    But, even in our church setting we have had employees and some assistant pastors who had to be treated very gently to avoid a tense and unpleasant reaction. Fortunately we have a strong pastoral team who either counseled the person and got improvement, or quickly moved to facilitate an exit.

    The root cause of all of this world’s problems is sin. And sin is essentially, self-gratifying, self-absorbed and rejecting of controls.

    Blessings on you today in your work and life. Don

    Comment by Don R. | January 19, 2009

  11. Tina says:

    Thanks to all of you who have written with your thoughts and experiences. I received a dozen or so emails as well! Thank you! I love comments! And, I love personal experiences from readers, because it helps others.

    Even if someone doesn’t agree with you, they will think about your comments and perhaps develop some additional reasoning that helps them. Mostly though, the comments I receive are good experiences, good advice, or just a friendly hello. All are very welcome!

    Comment by TLR | January 19, 2009

  12. I’ve been called a problem employee because I stand up for myself. So, maybe what other people think of as being a problem is just one employee who finally won’t take it anymore. Sorry for the difference of opinion, but it looks like you tend to side with management most of the time anyway. Maybe you ought to get the viewpoint of the workers and live in the real world instead of training.

    Comment by Screwed over | February 16, 2009

  13. Tina says:
    Thank you for your comment. It’s interesting to see how others think. However, with sincere good will toward you, let me draw your attention to your writing style, as a way to remind you that an “in your face”, mocking and confrontational approach is probably why you are considered problematic. I doubt that will change if you are an adult and determined to be unpleasant, but I would like to see you moderate your approach a bit. You’d be amazed at how much more you would enjoy work if you weren’t resisting something all the time!

    Best wishes to you and please continue to comment.

    Comment by TLR | February 16, 2009

  14. OMG! I can’t believe someone said you don’t live in the real world! LOL!!!!!!!!

    Comment by denise | February 19, 2009

  15. Tina says:
    Behave yourself, Denise. 🙂

    I don’t want to seem that I only see one perspective or another. But, usually an article will focus on one perspective, so I try to vary the tone of the articles. I also never want to shut off comments.

    It’s a great life!

    Comment by TLR | February 20, 2009

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