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What Happens When Employees Are Boxed and Labeled?

By Sandy Schroeder

Stereotyping people is easy to deny, but we all do it, including bosses, and sometimes employees wind up in the wrong box!

Actually, stereotyping, which is labeling people, is practically inevitable as we meet so many, and need to quickly figure out who they are. So we simply stamp labels on them. They are quick, dull, creative, funny, loyal, sensitive or careless. The list goes on and so do the labels. When this occurs at work, more things happen.

How This Works at Work

Managers often put employees into three different boxes:

  • A - Great performers
  • B or C – Average performers
  • D or F – Poor performers

What happens next is fairly negative, according to Wall Street Journal’s Peter Capelli. He says putting people into boxes, and leaving them there, can be harmful to them and the company.

For starters, boxing people is just totally wrong. Lumping people into categories easily misses individual skills and gifts. Who knows how much productive power is lost?

Once employees are boxed it's difficult to move ahead. Everyone expects an A, B or C performance. Once a C always a C! At the same time, top performers often get a pass. Psychologist Edward Thorndike called this the “halo effect,” assuming top-rated people do well in everything. If you have ever found yourself in that category, you may know exactly how this can happen.

These are some of the things that happen next. 

Top people get opportunities– People rated as stars are given attention and projects, which usually works, but not always. 

Average workers give up – Workers quickly figure out where they stand and give the company just what is expected, average work. At the same time, they may find more creative work somewhere else.

People at the bottom sink – Labeling people as D or F may cause them to leave the field, work poorly, or simply fail to thrive. Work is a form of identity for all of us and a psychological weight is placed on a person when he is stamped a failure. A wiser choice might be to reach out to this person and find out why their performance is lagging. They may be having personal family or financial troubles, need more training, or a career change. Most of us have seen someone flounder, then change jobs and blossom. 

Most of all, no one needs or deserves to be placed in a box. As you read this, you are probably deciding what box you are in and what you want to do about it. Or you may be a boss considering the process. Either way, all of us should work to “unbox” our world as much as possible to really see each person that we meet. That’s where productivity and progress really thrive.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Zionsville, Ind.

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