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Codependency in the Workplace by Randy Morkved, Balcony 7
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Codependency in the Workplace

by Randy Morkved

I was recently discussing with a friend the many articles written of late about corporate culture, employee relations, and micro-management. While talking about some of the habits of workers and leaders, he brought up an interesting concept: Codependency, and how it rears its ugly head too often, both in management and in employees. I agreed and did some research.

The term “codependent” was coined by a self-help author named Melody Beattie, in her run-away bestseller, Codependent No More, first published in 1986 by a division of the Hazeldon Foundation, a non-profit alcohol and drug treatment facility in Minnesota.

Beattie’s subtitle for the book sums up the definition of the term rather well: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself. The book and its concept was originally geared toward helping alcoholics and drug addicts get back their identity and recognize the “enablers” around them, who may be a reason why they escape reality with addiction. Codependents, you see, are a big part of the problem.

Codependents thrive amidst needy people; weak people; people who they deem “broken,” and in need of constant supervision and care.

They’re obsessed with controlling others they’ve already categorized as incapable of being independent and strong. I believe a better way to describe codependents is “insecure” and, perhaps, “narcissistic.” In the workplace over the years, I’ve seen my share of insecurity and narcissism; from co-workers, team leaders and bosses who complain a bit too much and micro-manage progress. Being an independent, entrepreneurial worker myself, you can imagine these personality traits rubbed me the wrong way.

Rather than recognizing and appreciating the benefits of dynamic employees, I witnessed many instances of great workers getting sidelined by their bosses, and admonished for their style, even if they did their job well. Why? Often, it boiled down to the employee achieving success without nurturing and guidance from leaders. I also witnessed colleagues who always ran to the boss for help and guidance, even though we were all armed with the same tools for success and many of us achieved it on our own.

Does any item on this list ring true in your organization:

Are there managers or employees who need constant attention?

  • Do you give it to them, or tell them to run with it and do their job? After all, you have better things to do.
  • Or do you coddle these people?
  • Do you entertain pity parties and sob sessions?
  • Do you micro-manage every aspect of projects, or even sales calls?
  • Do you want to know where your people are, at every given time of day?

I’m not saying company rules and codes of ethics should go by the wayside. Not at all. There’s a place for guidelines; a need for employees to check in with regular communication; and the importance of being a team player. But there’s a fine line that, when crossed, indicates a nanny-like approach. This is smothering to a go-getter and could certainly be a turn-off for a star performer.Sometimes, you just have to step back and let these people do their thing. For some, that’s not easy to do; because they don’t see what they’re doing wrong.

Letting go is difficult. This is where codependency comes in. I’ve recently read many articles about codependency, and it seems addicts have an easier time recognizing and overcoming it than the sober people around them. One reason for this stems from the fact that rehab facilities help addicts admit their faults and weaknesses early into treatment. However, many sober people have a much harder time admitting there’s anything wrong with them. This denial is the biggest obstacle in overcoming codependency. Once established, however, many find improved self-worth and a lighter load.

Letting go of others’ issues means focusing on yourself.

It means we are each recognizing and respecting the other’s capabilities and supporting their independence. By constantly stepping in to micro-manage, we stifle progress. We also silently say, “I don’t believe in you. I don’t think you can do this without my help.” In the workplace, however, this isn’t why we hire people. We hire them for their potential; because we believe in their capabilities. If we continue to quash their confidence with our own meddling, we find ourselves running in place. That’s a lot of energy wasted.

In conclusion, I’d like to share a great article I came across in Accenture’s Outlook, an online journal for high-performance businesses. “California Dreaming,” by Jeanne G. Harris and Allan E. Alter, gives a great overview of why Silicon Valley businesses are so dynamic relative to their more traditional counterparts, and how some traditional companies are following their example and reaping the rewards. Silicon Valley culture is the antithesis of codependency. It embraces the entrepreneurial spirit in all its employees.

Employees working at dynamic Silicon Valley companies are brought in for their potential and they’re encouraged to inject their contributions into in-house projects, as well as crowdsource with outsiders on other projects they’re passionate about. Why promote working with the competition? It empowers the team and serves as an incubator for overall progress. Many other great examples are in this article.

While some of SV’s freestyle thinking and codes of conduct may be incorporated into traditional organizations, some may not.

It may not be feasible to knock down all your cubicle walls and do away with layers of corporate bureaucracy. But if you treat each other with respect, in any case, and let everyone shine with a little more individuality, you may realize much more than just a rise in corporate morale. You may also experience significant progress in productivity.

The bottom line in business is this:

We want our ventures to be successful. Toward that end, why not stop to look in the mirror and honestly ask ourselves if there’s something in our own approach that hinders progress? If we all did this honestly, and let go of our inclination for codependent tendencies, we can nurture what’s truly most important: a healthy work environment. That’s the root of a successful venture.