When your staff act like babies at work…


By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Founding Editor, bSci21.org

We act like babies at work.  That is the conclusion of a recent CareerBuilder survey of 5,000+ managers and staff in the U.S.

Among the top childlike behaviors respondents reported witnessing at work were whining (55% witnessed), pouting over something that didn’t go his/her way (46% witnessed), and tattling on a coworker (44% witnessed).

Managers who responded to the survey also reported specific examples of immaturity, including an owner who threw tantrums when told “no”, an employee who avoided work by hiding from his coworkers, and an employee who “gossiped about all of his direct reports, then pretended to be their advocate.”

The chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder noted that some such behavior in the workplace “can be harmless, enabling employees to let off some steam  and even promote a sense of camaraderie in the office.”  However, acting like a baby at work is a slippery slope to trouble, and an earlier survey by the same company revealed the four following behaviors that hindered promotions.

  1. Negativity, including whining, tantrums, and general pessimism, was viewed by 62% of employers to hinder promotion.
  2. Vulgar language was cited as an obstacle to promotion by 51% of employers.
  3. Gossiping would cause employers to “think twice” before promoting said employee.
  4. Sloppiness, including a clean office and eating area, was an obstacle to promotion for 36% of employers.

From the standpoint of Applied Behavior Analysis, most of the before-mentioned behaviors can be indicators of a workplace lacking positive reinforcers for employee performance, perhaps accompanied by “management by exception” practices wherein the majority of managers’ interactions with staff are when staff do something wrong.

If your organization exhibits the behaviors listed above, it’s time to take a systematic look at your performance systems.  The field of Organizational Behavior Management has developed a standardized assessment, known as the Performance Diagnostic Checklist, to help managers pinpoint areas for improvement across four domains: Antecedents and Information, Equipment and Processes, Knowledge and Skills, and Consequences.   Improve work processes in the latter domains and adolescent behaviors will decrease.

Be sure to read the full CareerBuilder survey report and check out the two following bSci21 articles to learn more about the Performance Diagnostic Checklist — 20 Performance Hacks: A Cheat Sheet To Behavior Change, and This Assessment Can Help You Manage Your Human Service Staff.

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at todd.ward@bsci21.org.

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