Treating People As Adults At Work

October 16, 2010

Should we treat people as adults as work? For people that act like adults, it’s foolish to treat them otherwise; however, for the few that don’t act like adults, it’s equally foolish to treat them as if they were. I’ve found that true adults never raise the issue of being treated like adults for good reason – they don’t have to. It’s only those that choose to not behave as adults that scream the loudest about not being treated like an adult.

Adult behavior is not a self-fulfilling prophesy, such that if we just treated everyone as an adult, everyone would act like one. If you believe that, then you have to believe there is a way you can make the true adults that work for you consistently behave like children. That’s silly.

Here is my list of five things that I think are the hallmark of adult behavior at work:

1. Adults show everyone unconditional respect. Adults understand that respect can only be earned through the treatment of others.  Respect is a gift we give ourselves by the way we treat others. The idea of being entitled to respect is foreign to the mind of an adult.

2. Adults understand that all worthy rewards involve personal and shared sacrifice. Adults count the cost of the goals they value. They don’t pretend that the sacrifices are not painful, but they bear the necessary sacrifices with integrity.

3. Adults understand that freedom of choice is not void of responsibility for consequence. Adults anticipate measured consequences when their personal choices encroach upon the reasonable rights of others at work.

4. Adults set standards for personal behavior far above any guidelines, rules, or policies provided by the organization. By doing so, they free themselves from the system of external rewards and sanctions.

5. Adults accept full responsibility for all their behavior at work. Adults offer explanations that incorporate personal accountability and shun self-serving excuses.

I would suggest to you that if you spend any time at work thinking that you are not being treated as an adult, you are probably not acting like one.

Performance behaviors are not the same as adult behaviors. Not all adults deliver exemplary performance, and not all of your best performers also behave like adults.  If you are hiring and promoting people that don’t have a proven track record of adult behavior at work, then you are doing yourself and the rest of your employees a tremendous disservice.

Related Posts:

Another Great Leader: The Paradox Of Respect

My Advice To New MBA Students

Excellence Is A Form Of Deviance

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Comments (12)

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  1. Matthew Spaur says:

    Hi Bret,

    In thinking about a recent experience I had at work, these two statements in your blog post seem to me to be at odds:

    “Adults show everyone unconditional respect.”
    “If you spend any time at work thinking that you are not being treated as an adult, you are probably not acting like one.”

    My situation was I had a colleague who did not treat me or other team members with respect. This colleague disregarded or disrespected our professional time, experience, and expertise through micromanagement, poor time management, and a lack of priorities and focus. In that situation, it seems reasonable that I would think I’m not being treated as an adult.

    Can you shed some additional light on the combination of these two statements?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    That stuff happens to me as well, Matt. I personally NEVER consider whether or not I am being treated as an adult. The attribution about my adult behavior is driven by my choices, not the choices of anyone else. I do have people treat me in ways I find disrespectful, but it has nothing to do with me not acting like an adult. It has everything to do with them, not me. Keep chewing on it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  2. Joe Russo says:

    Further to Matt’s comments, I always abided the rule that when you hire people who are smarter than you are, you in effect demonstrate just how smart you truly are. In other words, the secure leader who has sought to hire and retain only those who are smarter than he (or she) is, will never belittle or distract. He will let the thoroughbreds run as they were bred to. It is the truly insecure that cajole and bother and nagg.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    we are on the same page Joe. wonder why that simple wisdom is so hard for so many to accept? thamks. Bret

  3. Nova Wood says:

    I just wanted to write a quick note about how nice it is to have videos from you elaborating on your points. This is especially appreciated from myself as an online only MBA student. It’s almost like I get to go to class. 🙂 Thank you. Keep up the videos.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Nova. Glad you find them helpful. Its been a learning process for me. Some of the early ones are painful for me to watch now! Thanks. Bret

    Lilliana Reply:

    I agree with Nova.
    It’s nice to see and hear you “professing” your points. It really helps drive the point across, and it is like sitting in your classroom.
    Thank you professor!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks, Lilliana! Bret

  4. Cain Brodie says:

    Hi Brett,

    This post is great. My company’s culture is completely fractured, as an organization we are truly our own worst enemy. Based on observation it seems much of the dissension and disrespect between departments stem from two types of people: those who have been with the company for a long time (some since its inception) and those who feel their skills are invaluable to the company. Many that fall into these categories have a very strong sense of entitlement, which in their minds seems to alleviate any responsibility of demonstrating mutual respect or treating others as adults in situations where they are challenged, questioned or confronted.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Cain. Whatever form it takes, a sense of entitlement is hard to deal with. It’s hard to turn that attitude around. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. I’m going to beg to differ here.

    I don’t differ with the intent, I differ with a nuance in the language.

    It’s not so much treating people like adults as much as treating them like humans. I have two teenagers, and as I read the list of what we expect from adults, I can assure you I expect the same thing from my kids.

    FYI, my mantra at work has always been to treat people the way I want the world to treat my children. Be fair, have high expectations, provide coaching, and honor their inherent worth and dignity as a human being.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Lisa! LOVE your take on this. Thanks for sharing! Bret