A good relationship between employees and their managers and supervisors is important. A solid working relationship should always include mutual trust, respect, and understanding. Having these things can make leading employees easier and keep employees happy.
However, in some instances, the balance of this relationship tilts. When this happens, it can lead to situations where employees take undue advantage of their superiors. This happens more often than most people think. This could be because of a manager’s overly lenient nature or perhaps because of ambiguities in communication. As a leader, the challenge lies not in establishing authority through intimidation. Instead, by creating an environment where respect is earned.
You may be an entrepreneur who is slowly noticing that your employees are taking advantage of your willingness to be flexible. Maybe you’re a supervisor who has allowed your team to abuse the privilege of coming in a few minutes late that was given to them. Whatever your role, being taken advantage of by your employees is never a good feeling.
In this article, we’ll look at a few ways you can stop employees from taking advantage of you.
Remember You’re a Leader First, in the Workplace
Leaders are people too. Business owners, managers, and supervisors all love to be well-liked by everyone who reports to them. However, that desire to be liked can be detrimental to their job as a leader if they allow that desire to cause employees to take advantage of them.
Trying to please everybody as a leader hurts your team and your company. You can also hurt yourself by trying to please everyone. According to Debbie Sorensen, a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist, being a people-pleaser at work can lead to burnout.
This is because those who want to please others often take on workloads that are too much to handle, often help others even when it interrupts their work, and will sometimes disregard their own feelings when someone at work does something that upsets them. This is because people-pleasers often avoid conflicts.
As a leader, you cannot be effective while being a people-pleaser. Even if you have a good personal relationship with your employees, you are a leader first when you’re in the workplace.
Learn to Say ‘No’
The word ‘no’ is one of the most powerful words a leader can learn to apply. They need to be able to say ‘no’ to unreasonable customers, clients, and even their team members. If a leader makes it a habit of always saying yes to requests, people might not take them seriously. With that comes the possibility of being taken advantage of, as employees may expect you to always acquiesce.
Saying ‘no’ isn’t about being negative. It’s more about making smart choices that help the company and team. When a leader says ‘no’, it shows they’re thinking about what’s best in the long run. It shows that the leader is serious about reaching the company’s goals. And they are there to not just try to make everyone happy.
Some people worry about seeming difficult or strict by saying ‘no’. This is a valid concern. However, if you decline requests reasonably, and pick your battles, you’ll be more balanced with what you agree to and what you decline.
Every type of relationship needs boundaries. Whether it is parent and child, next-door neighbors, or friends, boundaries keep people from offense or even abuse. This also goes for working relationships. In the workplace, boundaries define the parameters of behavior. They also help regulate interactions, as well as expectations. When a leader sets clear boundaries, they are effectively delineating what is permissible and what isn’t.
Boundaries are guidelines, practices, or rules leaders set to help outline limits between people or their work. For instance, a manager might set a boundary that work-related emails shouldn’t be sent after a certain hour. This would ensure a work-life balance for the team.
However, setting boundaries goes beyond just defining them. It’s equally vital to communicate these parameters clearly to all team members. This ensures that everyone is aligned and aware. Any ambiguity or vagueness creates the opportunity for employees to take advantage of the lack of clarity.
However, keep in mind that boundaries aren’t rigid constructs. They are not as strict as company policies (more on that next). Instead, they can evolve based on the changing dynamics and needs of the team and organization. Let’s use the previous example of no email after a certain hour. If a team is going into a project that requires team members to work during later hours instead of in the mornings, then leadership would be able to move that boundary for the time being. However, every time they change, clear communication is again crucial.
Have Clear Policies
To avoid employees taking advantage of people in situations, businesses need to have clear policies in place. Policies provide clarity, direction, and a roadmap for how various situations should be handled. When an organization has clear, comprehensive policies, they are essentially laying down a foundation for consistency and fairness. It also makes it clear what will and will not be tolerated.
A clear policy removes ambiguity. Whether it’s about remote working conditions or leaves of absence, a well-defined policy ensures that every member knows the stance of the business. This clarity minimizes misunderstandings and streamlines processes. It also makes it harder for employees to take advantage of certain people and situations. When everyone is aware of the rules and understands that they apply uniformly, it reduces feelings of favoritism or bias.
However, having a policy for the sake of it isn’t enough. It’s crucial to ensure that these policies are relevant. It may not be a good idea to borrow policies from other companies unless it is relevant to your business, culture, and team.
You also want to make sure to update your policies periodically. Most experts recommend updating policies every 1 to 3 years. Ideally, you are reviewing them annually to see if there are any changes necessary. Another reason to update your policy more frequently is to make sure the policies and procedures are still aligned with the company’s values and goals. With changes in management, staff, or business model, a lot of other things tend to change. You should be making sure your policies reflect those changes.
Enforce those Policies to Prevent Employee Exploitation
The creation of clear policies is only half the battle. You will need to go beyond that to truly avoid being taken advantage of. The true test of these policies’ effectiveness is in their consistent enforcement. If leaders want to establish an environment where their authority is respected and their goodwill isn’t misused, they need to be proactive in upholding the rules they set.
When managers enforce policies consistently, they send a clear message to their team. The main message is that the organization values discipline, fairness, and mutual respect. This not only establishes the manager’s credibility but also reinforces the notion that every team member is held to the same standard. And this is regardless of their position or tenure.
Enforcing policies is similar to keeping your word. If one employee is found abusing a company policy and other employees witness the consequences of that abuse, it shows that the company takes those policies seriously. Also, managers, leaders, and supervisors are seen as more trustworthy since they stand by the policies they create.
Conversely, delayed reactions or inconsistent consequences can be perceived as indecisiveness or favoritism. Employees will begin to wonder why some of their co-workers are being corrected for abusing policies while others are not. This can open a score of destructive behaviors like gossip, envy, and potential conflict.
Leaders must take appropriate action to enhance a leader’s reputation as someone who is both firm and fair.
No one should be able to be taken advantage of in the workplace. Leadership should never take advantage of employees and employees should never take advantage of each other. As a leader, it is equally important that you are not being taken advantage of.
If you notice your team or an individual exploiting your kindness, act swiftly to address the situation. If you do, you can return the working relationship to a place of mutual respect and collaboration that will help sustain company culture and benefit everyone in the long run.