You Can Depend On Me
The Analogy of the Helpful Boy
Once there was a small boy who was loved by everyone. He was polite, kind, thoughtful and always willing to help anyone with any thing they wanted done.
One morning the boy noticed that his neighbor, who owned a dog, was upset with his dog. The man was yelling at his dog because the dog was hungry and barking at the man to feed him.
The young boy went over and asked the man if he could help. The man explained that the dog needed to be fed and he did not have the time to feed him because he had to get to work. The boy said he would feed the dog. The man was pleased and said the boy could come over any morning and feed the dog. The boy felt very good about helping his neighbor.
As time passed the boy went over more and more to help the man by feeding the dog. Because both the man and the dog seemed so happy with his coming over, he made it his daily job to feed the dog.
As months went by the man became so accustom to having the boy come over and feeding the dog that he would get up and go to work without even waiting to see if the boy was coming to feed his dog. The little boy began to wonder if the man even appreciated his help. But because the boy was not wanting to let the dog go without being fed he never stopped coming to the man’s house and feeding the dog.
One day, the boy’s mother asked him if he would help her deliver some food to his grandmother. Because the mother had to go to work she said that they would have to leave very early in the morning so she could have enough time to go to work. She also informed the boy that he would have to stay with his grandmother until she would be done with her workday.
The boy was so pleased that his mother wanted him to help her, as well as be able to help his grandmother all day, that he readily agreed to go with her.
Shortly after leaving his home the small boy remembered that he would always feed the neighbor’s dog and did not want to disappoint the man and take a chance that the dog would go unfed.
He explained the dilemma to his mother. She reminded her young son that he was just helping the man out but it was really the man’s responsibility to feed his own dog. She went on to tell her son that the man would not expect him to be there everyday because he never arranged this to be his responsibility and was not paying him to do the feeding. She said that the man surely would be appreciative and not mind feeding the dog himself this time. This made the boy happy. It was great to be able to please everyone.
That night there was a knock at the door. It was the neighbor man. The man started to yell at the boy for being so irresponsible for not feeding his dog. The boy was shocked that the man could yell at him after all the months of helping him without asking for any thing back.
But the young boy quickly came to the conclusion that the man was right, he should have fed the dog before he left with his mother. He apologized and asked the man to forgive him for being so thoughtless. The angry man calmed down and reminded the boy that he depended on him to feed the dog so he could get to work on time. The small boy agreed to not let this happen again.
Why did the boy continue to help this man? Why would he have apologized? How did the responsibility get shifted to the boy? What will eventually happen to this relationship?
The dependent worker (like the young boy) is a loved worker. The dependent worker not only does his/her own work but other people’s jobs too. Why? He/she needs approval and acceptance from others and doesn’t know how else to get it. This kind of employee de-emphasizes their needs and desires and defers to everyone else’s needs. They become the company’s servant. Other workers like them. Do other workers respect them? Do others use them? Do others depend on them? What happens when they can’t (because they are helping everyone else) do the extra things you wanted them to do for you?
This dependent worker is constantly faced with ever-increasingly greater expectations from others and for themselves. Because they ask for nothing back (but expect approval), they progressively feel devalued and eventually may be unable to refrain from expressing anger. It may not show up in clear or obvious ways but it will show up. This, of course, can lead to enormous problems, possibly the dependent worker “getting back at” a co-worker or company (passive aggression) for not showing appreciation (despite protesting that they do not want or need acknowledgement).
What would prevent a dependent worker (who can be very valuable) from getting angry, frustrated and resentful?
Generally, employees who are characterized as dependent workers need to receive the approval they desperately crave. Managers who ignore this need will find themselves “using” this worker until the worker leaves or gets back at them. You must give them the respect they will not request. They will play down any accolades and actually be embarrassed; nevertheless, they must get the positive attention and the “thank you” that they deserve. They are the loyal employees who will remain positive, helpful and dedicated to managers, co-workers and the organization, if they are treated well.
Like the young boy in the story above, he will keep helping (loving to do it) as long as he doesn’t feel used. The essence of the dependent worker is their constantly striving to get positive attention in order to feel valued or feel good about themselves.
Watch for the following characteristics of the dependent worker.
- Always willing to help others
- Frequently leaving “their” work for last and putting other worker’s projects first
- Always demeaning or “playing down” anything they offer
- Embarrassment over their own achievements
- Share credit freely with others (or verbalize no desire for credit)
- Tendency to actually train others to take advantage of them both knowingly and unknowingly by claiming not to need anything in return for helping another
- Often they stay late and arrive early if it might mean they will be liked more by someone
In order to prevent offending or losing this employee you must do the following:
- Pay clear attention to the extra help they provide to you or anyone else and acknowledge it despite their protest of not needing the “thanks”
- Constantly check yourself from unintentionally ”using” this worker like the man who used the boy in the story above
- Remember to not get angry if they can’t help (staying mindful of their tendency to be offering to help many others too)
- If you are managing them, discourage their excessive assumption of other’s responsibilities
- Watch for burnout (it is extremely common in this type of worker). Demand that they occasionally get relief or help too (offer time off or offer a small token of appreciation like a thank you note, flowers, or just showing attention by putting a little piece of candy on their desk)
Note that these individuals often do not make the best managers. Their tendency to want everyone to like them makes it extremely difficult for them to make some of the critical or necessary but unpopular decisions that businesses require. They can and will be your hardest workers and the cheerleader when you need support (as long as you show appreciation).
As in the story of the little boy feeding the dog for the neighbor, you get the happy “giver” if you don’t take them for granted and offer the acknowledgement they so desperately need. To allow the dependent worker to do more than is required of them is a need of theirs you must accept. It is a defining characteristic that is important to them. Just do not let it become excessive.
It is important to remember that if you are the dependent worker, and you begin to feel angry with others about using you; you may benefit from some soul searching as to the reasons why your need for approval is so strong. Search for productive ways to get the positive attention and challenge yourself to be more assertive (you will actually be more respected by others and yourself) Ask for help if you need it and do not let the hours at work become extreme. The mental and emotional damage from exhaustion and repressed anger is well documented. Ultimately everyone in your life will suffer if you do not understand yourself and maintain a degree of balance. Coaching may actually be the only way you will generate the confidence and sustain the focus necessary for healthy change.