(I couldn’t resist the Freudian Slippers)
Through my first 10 to 15 years in the office workplace I unwittingly fell into this trap several times. It was only when I started to manage people that I became acutely aware, and faced the challenge of overcoming it to implement positive change.
- Indoor shoes with soft insides. Very warm and comfortable. (Urban Dictionary 2016)
COMFY SLIPPER SYNDROME
1. The propensity for any individual performing the same function for an extended period of time to become defensive of their role and resist sometimes aggressively any change. (Ian Wilson 2016)
In my experience it takes between one and two years for this syndrome to set in, but mileage may vary. The warning signs are all too obvious and I’m sure will be very familiar to anyone that has changed role a few times. Firstly, there is the acceptance of how things are, a loss of appetite to struggle against things that are wrong or could be improved. Secondly the uncomfortable moments become less frequent and are replaced by a genuine feeling that you are an expert and happy doing a job you can do very well, that’s the purchase of those slippers. The final phase, anger and frustration will creep into the day to day, little things or little people interfering will annoy you. Once upon a time, you would have risen to the challenge and had fun doing so, how things have changed. Once you reach this point, you are no longer doing a good job, you will become a barrier to positive change, better working practices and the requirement of the business to adapt to an ever changing external environment.
Unfortunately there is only one cure, a complete change in role. That could mean to move on, to move up or to just move sideways into a new challenge, but move you must. This will give you a fresh perspective, new challenges, plenty to learn and established processes and working practices to influence. It will ensure you stay fresh and interested and challenged. But most of all you will be a happy contributor to the success of the business and not a blocker.
If you’re a manager then it will be up to you to spot the signs and take action to ensure people aren’t allowed to sleep walk into this state. Plan for it, prepare your team in advance, if they have their comfy slippers on already then it’s going to be hard for them to adjust and you will get some resistance. It’s also important to understand the key skills of each individual and make sure the new challenges they take on will allow them to develop those areas and that’s a big selling point. In doing so you may find it easier to retain the best team members.
There are a number of ways to encourage this behaviour, perhaps the members of your team can exchange responsibilities and functions. You can also delegate responsibility for portions of budget, key deliverables, etc. It is also possible to exchange team members between other functions on secondment. Whatever solution is appropriate for your team it will pay in the long run to help them develop and grow rather than stagnate in the same role, no matter how good they are at it now, eventually there will be challenges to overcome and if they are already in the right mind-set change will be much smoother.