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You Get What You Tolerate

    Ever find yourself asking, telling, begging, and pleading with your employees, only to see things left undone and disruptive behavior persisting? Before you blame your staff for being incompetent, lazy, or just plain bad, let’s explore a different perspective. Wise words from one of my past mentors echo in my mind: “You get what you tolerate.” In other words, every time you allow something to continue, you’re essentially giving it your stamp of approval.

    Tolerance: More Than Meets the Eye

    Tolerance is often a mindless act. We put up with things, ignore them, or brush them aside. We are busy, have multiple priorities, get tired of asking, or perhaps want to avoid a difficult conversation. But here’s the thing: tolerating is a choice. So, when you choose to tolerate, don’t complain about the behavior or wish for things to magically change.

    The Unmade Bed

    Let’s take a lesson from parenting, where managing employees can sometimes feel like raising children (not that employees are childish, mind you). Just as parents set examples and expectations to guide their children’s behavior, managers must do the same. 

    an unkempt bed in the morning

    Most parents ask their children to make their bed every day. Some kids might do this just because you ask, but many will not. Here is what tolerance looks like.

    Imagine asking little Johnny to make his bed every day. Maybe he does it once because you asked, but the next morning, he’s back to watching cartoons. You remind him again, but the distraction of SpongeBob blocks out your words. Half an hour later, you are ready to leave for work and see the bed is still unmade. You grapple with him to finish his Cheerios before it’s time to go, and the unmade bed loses its place in the importance hierarchy. And what happens next? Let’s predict the future together.

    Future Predictions

    Will you rush to make the bed yourself because you’re running late and can’t stand the sight of it? Or will you shrug it off, deciding it’s not that big of a deal? If you choose the latter, why did you bother asking Johnny to make the bed in the first place? Likely, frustration will take hold, and you’ll grumble to your partner about how he never listens. Perhaps you don’t have kids, but you were the kid who got away with an unmade bed. Either way, the outcome is clear: the unmade bed becomes a permanent fixture until you change your actions.

    Tolerance in the Workplace

    Now, let’s leave the home behind and venture into the realm of work.

    A Case of Wearing Name Tags

    I once relocated to an office where employees neglected to wear their name tags. Now, you might think it’s a trivial matter. After all, what’s the harm or risk involved? But let’s dive deeper and uncover the significance of this seemingly small act.

    To Tolerate or Not to Tolerate

    Certain actions should never be tolerated, especially when they are detrimental to the successful operation of the business. We’re talking about following procedures, upholding service standards, and maintaining work attendance, among others. Most companies have clear rules and policies, and the expectations are straightforward.  When employees fail to adhere to these basic processes, it adversely affects customer satisfaction. Picture this: waiting 30 minutes in a McDonald’s drive-thru only to receive a raw hamburger. Not a pleasant experience, right?

    But what about behaviors that negatively impact others, breach trust, or jeopardize employee safety? While physical safety often has procedures in place, psychological safety is often neglected. Actions like discrimination, dishonesty, and backstabbing create an untrusting and disruptive work environment. When such behaviors are tolerated, it becomes impossible to have a safe and collaborative workspace.

    Now what about pet peeves? Should you tolerate those?

    Pet peeves and Perfectionism

    We all have our pet peeves, those little annoyances that get under our skin. It might be something as trivial as preferring blue pens and becoming annoyed when an employee uses a black pen.

    If you are a perfectionist and want things done a certain way, it can frustrate employees. I recall a manager who insisted that paperwork was filed immediately after each customer interaction, which meant many trips to a filing room. It was good exercise; however far less efficient than filing once at the end of the day. Enforcing rules because of a paper mess is one thing; forcing your habits on others is another matter entirely.

    Wearing Name Tags – A Closer Look

    Let’s circle back to the issue of wearing name tags. To tolerate or not tolerate? At first glance, it seems inconsequential. But if we zoom out and see it as part of the bigger picture, we realize it’s a company standard. The standard exists for valid reasons and demands minimal effort to comply with. So, what message are you sending when you let it slide? It’s like allowing someone to breach the terms of an employment contract. When an employee accepts a job, and the paycheck that goes along with it, they in turn must accept and comply with company standards. Tolerating non-compliance is a signal that it’s acceptable to disregard the rules.

    What Tolerance Looks Like

    We all have moments when we’re swamped with tasks, tired of repeating ourselves, or faced with competing priorities. Sometimes, with a deadline approaching or feeling like a martyr, we think, “I might as well do it myself; at least it’ll be done the way I want.” But every time you ask for something and it doesn’t get done, yet you let it slide, you’re essentially tolerating it. Take note of the following actions, as they all indicate tolerance:

    • Ignoring a behavior and hoping it magically resolves itself.
    • Deciding that an issue isn’t worth your time and energy, convincing yourself you have  bigger fish to fry.
    • Taking matters into your own hands because the person you delegated to either didn’t do it or didn’t do it correctly.
    • Sending mixed signals by supporting a behavior with inconsistent words and actions.

    Remember, if you choose to tolerate, the future will likely mirror the present or worsen if the issue at hand is critical.

    Putting an End to Tolerance

    It’s time to break the cycle of tolerance and create a more productive work environment. Close your eyes, click your heels together three times and repeat: I will not tolerate, I will not tolerate, I will not tolerate.

    That didn’t work? Perhaps we should explore some practical steps to make a positive change:

    • Set clear expectations: Learn more about effective expectation setting in our article Inspect what you expect. Expectation: All employees must wear name tags during customer hours.
    • Provide the necessary support: Ensure your employees have the tools and environment to meet your expectations. Action: Order two name tags for each employee to prevent any excuses.
    • Prioritize what matters: Be mindful of your requests. Ask yourself if a task or behavior is critical, necessary, a pet peeve, or driven by perfectionism. Focus on what matters for the employees and the business. Important?: Wearing name tags is a business standard, so yes, it is important.
    • Consistency is key: Avoid constantly changing your mind and sending mixed messages. If your team perceives you as someone who flip-flops on decisions, they will likely wait for the latest fad to pass rather than take immediate action.  Consistent: Stick to your expectation, don’t drop the name tag requirement after 2 weeks.
    • Lead by example: Ensure your words and actions are genuine and consistent. Never ask your employees to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Role Model:  If you expect them to wear name tags, make sure you wear one too.
    • Follow up: Keep a close eye on progress. Inspect what you expect and remember that your presence and attention are often all that’s needed.
    • Embrace consequences: This is typically the most misunderstood and neglected step.

    What do Consequences Look Like?

    Consequences don’t have to be negative or threatening. Positive consequences can be highly effective. For example, offering genuine feedback or a simple thank you can go a long way. 

    You have a choice when it comes to Johnny and his unmade bed. You could rant at him and threaten to ban TV for life because he neglected to make his bed. Have fun enforcing that one! Alternatively, you could offer him an incentive: explain that once he makes his bed, he can bond with SpongeBob and maybe even have a snack in front of the TV. It’s a win-win situation that encourages responsibility and rewards him for his efforts.

    Sometimes, allowing employees to determine the consequences themselves can be empowering. In the name tag example, I asked the staff what should happen if someone wasn’t wearing their name tag. They decided on a loonie jar. (A loonie = $1 for any non-Canadians reading this). When an employee forgot their name tag, they deposited a loonie into the jar. The positive outcome – when everyone wore their name tags, we used the fund to buy treats. After a few months, the jar became unnecessary.

    But it’s not always roses and sugar, there are times when tough love becomes necessary. It is easy to let things slide, claiming lack of time, or avoiding a difficult conversation. However, tough conversations are a critical part of a leader’s role and so detrimental when you fail to address issues.

    Don’t let tolerance shape your workplace. Take charge, set expectations, and inspire an environment where excellence thrives. Your future, and that of your team, depends on it.


    By the way, I was the child with the unmade bed. 😄

    Ponder Points

    Self-reflection is a valuable tool for growth and self-awareness as a manager. Be honest with yourself and use these questions to evaluate whether you might be unintentionally tolerating behaviors or situations that could be addressed more effectively.

    Do I find myself repeatedly asking for tasks to be completed, but ultimately letting them go without consequence or resolution?

    Am I avoiding addressing behaviors or issues that negatively impact the team or the work environment?

    Do I often feel overwhelmed with tasks and end up taking on responsibilities that should be delegated, simply because I doubt they will be done to my satisfaction?

    Are there instances where I contradict my own expectations or rules, either through my words or actions?

    Have I noticed any patterns where I prioritize other tasks or projects over addressing ongoing problems or behavioral issues within my team?

    Make a commitment to stop tolerating! Head over to the grow page for guidance.

    Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts.

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