Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

How Long Are You Going To Feed The Baby Birds?

Baby birds have to be fed every 15 to 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset. Mother and father birds spend their time getting food, returning to the cheep-cheep-cheep of their babies, popping food in the tiny open beaks, flying out again and repeating that all day long.

This goes on for two or three weeks, at which time feeding is reduced to every one or two hours, then four hours, then after seven or eight weeks the birds are weaned and they are pushed out of the nest and taught to fly. It’s not uncommon to see a relatively large juvenile bird following its mother around hoping to be fed–but she doesn’t do it and the baby has to grow up and feed itself.

Do you have baby birds in your workplace? Many workplaces have one or more people who are like perpetual baby birds. They never have learned to provide for themselves and they don’t seem to care about the effect that has on everyone else. For all practical purposes they are in a nest that looks like a work space and they spend their work hours demanding to be fed.

Unfortunately, many supervisors and managers not only cater to them, they make everyone else do it too.

“Just go along with her. You know how she is.”
“Don’t let him upset you. You know how he is.”
“Do it the way she wants this time. You know how she is.”
“I’m going to stop that very soon, but for now try to deal with it. Otherwise, you know how she’ll be.”

Empowering Not Enabling

When employees are trained effectively and expected and required to be effective in their performance and behavior, they are more likely to become empowered. They can do what needs to be done and help others too. They appreciate support and encouragement but they also have the ability to draw from their own sense of worth and personal responsibility.  They self-initiate work and are self-motivated and self-disciplined. They have a strong sense of personal responsibility and are willing to be held accountable. What a pleasure! Supervisors need to be careful that they don’t take those employees for granted.

Baby bird employees are different. They are in the habit of  working with their little beaks open all the time–and whatever you give them is never enough. You can hear their cheeping in one or more of these ways–it varies according to the personality, interests and ego of the individual:

  • Self-promotion at every opportunity–or creating the opportunity. 
  • Unreasonable demands.
  • Making everything they do a major event.
  • Inappropriate actions or disruptive behavior.
  • Complaining, sulking, whining or pouting about many matters, big or small.
  • Taking the role of a victim–especially a saintly victim.
  • Wanting to be in charge or wanting to be considered the expert.
  • Angling to be thanked and thanked and thanked again.
  • Being hypersensitive to their own feelings and insensitive to the feelings of others.
  • Often being in the middle of a major emotional upheaval over minor issues.
  • Asking for excessive help, encouragement or support, even after learning a task.
  • Taking up more supervisory or managerial time than others but not getting more done.

How To Stop Enabling The Baby Bird Behavior

1. Accept your responsility and the need for a change in your own behavior.  If you have allowed the inappropriate behavior even a few times, it will be difficult for you to change your responses. It may seem easier to buy a little peace and quiet by catering to the employee just one more time. Resist the urge. Talk to other supervisors or managers and report back now and then. You’ll be less likely to give-in when you have to admit it to someone you respect.

2. Support the behavior and performance you want to see continue.  Thank the employee when he or she handles something the right way. Support other employees fully and let it be seen what you value and what the rest of the organization values. This also helps the mature, self-responsible employee who has been carrying the load but not getting the praise because the squeaky beak got it.

3. Stop the behavior and performance that is creating problems or that you do not want to see continue. You don’t need to do a closed door counseling session–unless you want to and think it is needed. Just tell the employee to stop. If you’ve never done that, you’ll be amazed at how effective it is! There are many ways to say you want someone to stop doing one thing and do something else instead–you’ll figure them out. The important thing is to stick with it like a broken record. It’s your way of saying, “We’re not feeding you any more.”

4. Keep the focus on good work. If you’re not careful you’ll replace the time you spent catering to the employee with an equal amount of time noticing whether or not he or she is still being a problem. Instead, focus on what must be done or could be done or on being more efficient and effective. One really good thing about work: It fills the empty time between arriving and leaving the workplace. When everyone is appropriately busy, there is little time for personal agendas and self-centered behavior. The moment you see time being wasted by the neediness of one or more employees, stop it and get the focus back on turning out a work product, whatever that may be in your business or organization.

When someone has been accustomed to only needing to chirp a few times to get attention, it isn’t easy to change things–but it can be done. Like other professional training and development, it’s for his or her own good and for the good of the organization and everyone else–including you.

August 17th, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 9 comments