Anytime we assume that all people are functioning at the same level behaviorally and emotionally in the workplace, we are sure to be surprised. Surprised when we encounter a co-worker who responses to what we thought was a simple comment with an emotional outburst that resembles that of an eight-year-old rather than a thirty-year-old.
Although emotionally immature employees can be a cause for difficulty at any level according to Sherry Buffington, Ph.D., as they progress up the organization the greater the problems. Should we be able to see inappropriate emotional outburst coming? Are there signs that will give us a heads up about the emotional immaturity level of various co-workers? Look at the following signs:
1. Inability to compromise with the rules of the workplace and with co-workers. Any group of people who spend time together must be able to compromise at times. Not everyone can have their way at every turn of the day.
2. Self-defensiveness and excuse making when confronted with a reality at work. Part of the difficulty in dealing with self-defensiveness and excuse making is that it can easily divert one from the original issues.
3. Avoidance of responsibility for work and/or interactions with other co-workers. The ability to say, “I was wrong and you were right.” is a major mark of maturity. It also helps us stay within the reality of situations instead of trying to create a false scenario in order to protect ourselves from having to take responsibility for our work and actions.
4. Misuse or response to authority, which leads to resentments on the part of others. It often results from a false sense of entitlement. “I am the boss and I do not have to respect you.”
5. A tendency to revert to quarreling rather than communication toward conflict resolution. The most common response when an emotionally immature worker feels they are challenged at work is often, “Yeah, but…” And when the one bringing up an issue is verbally attacked without the real issue being dealt with.
6. Complacency toward making efforts toward quality work, which is another way of saying they come across as lazy. But complacency is not the same as lazy. If the person is engaged in the project, they can be energized toward completion. Complacency is more the lack of caring about the outcome.
7. Try to make others responsible for their own emotions. It is always someone else’s fault that the emotionally immature worker is having a difficulty at work.
The good news is that any one can mature emotionally at any age. The bad news is the workplace is not the best place to help a person grow up emotionally. Few managers want to be the “parent” to emotionally adolescence workers. The problems that can occur within the workplace, especially in the area of interpersonal relationships, can be very disruptive. Figuring out how to grown-up emotionally immature workers can be a challenge for managers and co-workers to find solutions.
A manager can put into place ways to hold their staff accountable in the workplace. This needs to be done in a mature way. It does not help when the manager is reacting at the same level of immaturity as the staff member. Meeting each incident of emotional immaturity with a quiet, consistent, response that calls for the staff member to look at their own behavior and to change to meet the expectation of the managers is a challenge.
Working with a peer where you have no authority can be more difficult. Your options are more limited in how to influence your co-worker to grow up emotionally. Sometimes the only options you have are to be as emotionally mature as you can be, while trying to stay out of the line of fire of the emotionally immature co-worker.