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Beware of the Workplace Heroes

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Local entrepreneur Jeb Banner had blogged about Herculean efforts at work. His message: beware the heroic worker.

In the blog post, Banner wrote:

The heroic worker is the one who comes to the rescue when things fall apart, working 20 hour days if needed to patch together a project. They usually wear several hats, sometimes a few at once. I used to admire these heroic workers, standing in awe of their accomplishments. No more.

So what’s wrong with a hard working employee that can leap tall buildings in a single bound? Isn’t that a good thing?

Having a heroic worker around can seem like a good thing but really it’s more like business heroin. The company gets hooked and keeps going back to the heroic worker to bail them out without addressing the underlying issues.

Banner was absolutely correct. It’s easy to adore people who can achieve amazing feats, but it’s more important to ask why we need flashes of superhuman effort in the first place.

consulting on the heroic worker

© Flickr user Glen Darrud

The post went on to list ways to spot workplace heroes, which included:

  • They brag of their hard work, lack of sleep, and general suffering.
  • They keep several key areas of the business in lockdown, unwilling to share their “secrets” with others
  • They regularly send emails late at night reminding everyone else that they are still working.
  • They sincerely believe that the company would go out of business without them.
  • They rarely take real vacations.

All of these issues are near to our hearts here at AccelaWork. We’ve blogged extensively about how not to view job security and worker productivity. We’ve talked about the importance of balancing work and life and how it affects employee satisfaction, as well as the business process methodology of efficient vacations. A great employee is not an¬†irreplaceable¬†superhero. Instead, fantastic workers are those that show up and make consistent, meaningful, independent progress every day.

Banner breaks it down well.

Effective systems are at the core of every healthy business. Systems are the enemy of chaos. So heroic workers usually resist systems. Systems remove the organizational need for regular heroism.

He’s 100% correct. It’s great to have someone to step up in a time of distress, but the better question is why is that time of distress happening? Why are we putting ourselves in a position where systems failed and we needed corrective action? Why are we operating without a solid system in place? Before being quick to praise superheroes in the workplace, figure out why someone feels the need to act in such a way. And be sure that their heroism isn’t all talk. After all, no one feels the need to talk about how much they work more than someone who doesn’t work all that much.

Once we find a way to institute a solid system in the workplace, you’ll notice the need for superheroes decreases. If Gotham City finds a way to stop all super villains, then Batman will no longer be needed. That means Gotham will be a better place.

Jeb Banner wraps up his post with an intriguing comment:

In a healthy company with an effective system everyone can be replaced. I’ve learned that myself, the hard way.

This sentiment may be the hardest to swallow. It’s true that great organizations have great systems. Companies should be able to survive the loss of individual stakeholders. That doesn’t mean you should expect to lose your job. Instead, you should focus on being consistently valuable, not inconsistently heroic. The tortoise, not the hare, always wins the race.

For more information on how to find consistency in the workplace, contact the business development consultants at AccelaWork today!

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