While at the workplace, employees are usually expected to behave in a professional, mature and responsible manner. As such, it is almost unbelievable that any professional can behave in a manner more suited to children and adolescents – pouting, whining and throwing temper tantrums. At least not while at the workplace.
A survey recently released by CareerBuilder shows that such adolescent (and childlike) behaviors may be more common at the workplace than anyone could have expected. The survey – which was conducted by Harris Poll – revealed that more than 3 in 4 US employees (77 per cent) have observed childish behaviors at the workplace.
The childish behaviors described by employees included pouting, whining, throwing a tantrum, storming out of the room and even making faces behind someone’s back. The behaviors were typically displayed when the employees were frustrated, criticized or angry that things did not go their way.
The survey was carried out between May 14th and June 3rd, 2015. It was administered using an online poll. The participants in the survey included 3,000 fulltime workers and 2,000 fulltime recruitment and HR managers across various US industries. The survey sample was selected randomly from a broad spectrum of US industries and company sizes.
Adolescent Behaviors In The Workplace
The survey was aimed at finding out the prevalence of adolescent or childlike behaviors in US workplaces. “Childlike” referred to behaviors which would not be expected from individuals at a workplace given their age as well as professional code of conduct expected in most workplaces.
The respondents were asked whether they had witnessed any childlike behaviors in their workplace. Almost all of them were answered in the affirmative. When asked to list some of the behaviors they had observed, the top 5 most common ones listed (together with the percentage of respondents who reported witnessing them) were:
- Whining – 55%
- Pouting because something didn’t go their way – 46%
- Tattling on a co-worker – 44%
- Playing a prank on a co-worker – 36%
- Making a face behind someone’s back – 35%
Other adolescent behaviors reported included: forming cliques (32%), starting rumours about workmates (30%), storming out of rooms (29%), throwing temper tantrums (27%), and refusing to share resources with co-workers (23%).
In total, 77% of the respondents reported witnessing some form of childish, childlike or adolescent behavior in their workplace. The bad workplace behaviors were witnessed by both ordinary employees and employees in management positions.
Beyond reporting having witnessed childlike behaviors, some respondents described specific incidents of such behaviors which they had witnessed. Examples of incidents described include: a company owner who threw tantrums, yelled and slammed doors whenever he didn’t get his way; an employee who ate food which belonged to other employees from the company fridge and an employee who deliberately set-up others to get in trouble.
Other real-life incidents reported include: an employee who gossiped about her direct reports, an employee who hid in order to avoid work, and an employee who blocked the parking spot in order to prevent co-workers from parking near the front door.
These incidents were reported by employees in management positions. This means that either the behaviors were blatant enough to be noticed by managers, or that the proponents did not take any precautions to hide them.
The survey did not report whether certain employee characteristics such as gender, age or temperament influenced the likelihood of engaging in such behaviors. It also did not indicate whether the behaviors were spontaneous or calculated (i.e. deliberately carried out in order to achieve certain outcomes).
Benefits and Downsides
Not all adolescent behaviors are detrimental in a workplace setting. According to Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder chief HR officer, some adolescent behaviors can be beneficial. They can be useful for building a sense of camaraderie in the workplace.
This is true especially for behaviors like playing pranks which can be viewed in a spirit of fun and playfulness. Other behaviors like throwing tantrums can enable people to let off steam.
However, most adolescent behaviors are often harmful. Rosemary Haefner noted that behaviors such as tattling, spreading rumors and forming cliques which exclude others “be perceived as mean-spirited, bullying and even harassment.”
Such perceptions mean that people who display adolescent behaviors are often a disruptive influence in the workplace. They are usually a source of pain to co-workers and frustration to management. Their disruptive behaviors can degrade co-operation and teamwork.
A Potential Barrier To Career Advancement
Courtesy of their negative outcomes, adolescent behaviors can actually present a barrier to someone’s career advancement. An earlier CareerBuilder survey carried out in 2015 indicated that most employers wouldn’t consider promoting employees who exhibited certain adolescent behaviors.
The behaviors cited as presenting barriers to earning promotions included negativity i.e. perennial whining and pouting (62% of employers said they wouldn’t promote negative people), use of vulgar language (51%), gossip (44%) and sloppiness (36%).
In certain organisations (especially those which put a premium on teamwork), some behaviors like tattling, forming cliques, throwing temper tantrums and refusing to share resources can be considered a threat to teamwork. They can be grounds for severe sanctions or even dismissal.
A Glimpse Into The US Workplace
The CareerBuilder survey provides an interesting glimpse into the US workplace. Anecdotal evidence has for long pointed to the existence of childlike behaviors in the workplace. The CareerBuilder survey has offered some fairly concrete figures which can be used to drive a deeper debate.
Even then, the survey left some unanswered questions. For instance: what are the causes of childlike behaviors in the workplace? What is the impact of such behaviors on aspects like employee morale, employee engagement, teamwork and productivity? What measures can be used to reduce the prevalence of negative adolescent behaviors? Such questions will perhaps be picked up by other researchers.
What the CareerBuilder survey has revealed is that some professionals carry over their infantile behaviors from their elementary school playgrounds into the workplace. Exactly why they choose to do so is subject to debate. Some of the behaviors may actually have benefits like fostering camaraderie and letting employees blow off steam. However, in most cases, they have negative outcomes. For this, workers who constantly engage in such behaviors may at best not earn promotions, and at worst get their employment terminated.