Do you have an employee who is hard working and extremely conscientious? Who takes on more tasks and is always willing to follow through on the tedious, clerical chores everyone else avoids? Who routinely stays late and does favors for all? Who remembers birthdays and brings in homemade brownies? Who anticipates every office need?
Sounds wonderful. What’s not to love?
Do you have an employee who is moody and unpredictable? Who is pleasant much of the time but blows up with unexpected anger and frustration at commonplace frustrations? Who is frequently in a tizzy over personal problems? Who is hard-working at consistent tasks but timid or downright resistant in taking on new challenges?
Not so wonderful.
And what is even more disconcerting is that this second employee—the difficult one—may be the very same person as the delightful employee described earlier.
There’s a word that describes employees who exemplify both these desirable traits and the less desirable ones: codependent.
Codependency broadly refers to dependence on the needs of, or control by, someone else. The term is often used in describing family relationships, especially between spouses but also between parents and children. Sometimes alcohol, drug or other addictions are involved.
In the work setting, codependency plays out a little differently. The codependent may give lower priority to his or her own needs and be overly preoccupied with the needs of others in an effort to be deemed invaluable, even loved.
In the workplace, this tendency may be paired with a reluctance to take independent action and a fear of “doing it wrong” and therefore displeasing others. This fear of messing up plays out as an unwillingness to take on responsibility and even paralysis when charged with creative or professional decision making.
Here are some effective ways to deal with the situation:
The codependent employee is often highly reliable, tends to stay with the employer for a long time and brings devotion and competence to job tasks. It is usually worth managing potential negatives to enjoy the positive contribution this individual can bring.