When Abuse of the P Word Spoils It for Adults

Insight #306

“They shouldn’t have all this free stuff here if they don’t like us slacking off!” (Created with Microsoft Copilot)


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We are quick to get angry when the CEO and other executives abuse their power. Rightly so. But I get even angrier when employees abuse privileges.

It’s not easy being a CEO. There is a dark side that others don’t always appreciate. It is the burden of decision-making. When you are unsure of what to do, you ask your boss. Or your boss’ boss.

Ultimately, this delegating upwards ends with the CEO. Who does the CEO ask? That’s why it’s lonely at the top.

I once coached two CEOs who were feeling more than a tad lonely. Both had redesigned their organizations to be flat, with fewer rules and more freedom for their employees. Both now felt that they had failed.

Why? Because both had a few employees who were abusing these privileges, mainly by slacking off. (This was before working from home added an extra dimension to slacking off.)

Oh, come on! Who hasn’t slacked off at some stage? I’m pretty sure these CEOs had slacked off in their time. (I do it as often as I can until I catch myself at it.)

So why did the two CEOs feel they had failed?

Well, slacking off isn’t the actual issue. The problem lies in what slacking off does to other people. Like colleagues and customers. When you slack off, colleagues must step up to compensate. If they don’t cover your slackness, a customer somewhere, inside or outside your organization, will experience sub-standard service. Guess what sub-standard service leads to? Sub-standard profits.

Clearly, every workplace privilege or freedom has a dark side. We can abuse any privilege or freedom at the expense of someone else. (And, yes, the same applies in society. We can abuse any privilege or freedom in society at the expense of someone somewhere.)

But why did these CEOs feel they had failed? Not for redesigning their organizations. That was the right strategic decision. Their mistake was in not being tough enough with those who abused the new privileges.

That’s when I get mad, as a coach and an ex-employee. When a few immature employees see fit to poison the workplace (and society) for adults.

So, please, if we are going to grumble about abuse of the P word (power) at the top, then we should also condemn abuse of the P word (privileges) lower down.

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.

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