“I believe we are doing a disservice to our employees by attempting to cover ALL their needs – and thereby making sure they don’t have to be responsible for any decisions other than the few we allow within their narrow job descriptions.” – Paul Hebert

Fans of the now off-the-air TV show “Parks and Rec,” know about the iconic Libertarian Ron Swanson. For those unfamiliar with the show, Ron was the head of the Parks Department for Pawnee, a small fictional town in Indiana. His character satirizes a no-nonsense approach to life and work. Some of the things he’s famous for saying include:

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish…and feed yourself. He’s a grown man and fishing’s not that hard.”

“I used to work in a sheet metal factory, but then a job came along at the tannery. The hours were better and I would get paid. Also I’d have the chance to work with leather both before and after it was on the cow which had always been a dream of mine. I didn’t want to give up my sheet metal job so I tried to do both jobs and finish middle school.”

Two quotes that pretty much sum up Ron Swanson’s approach to work. You do the work, and you do it hard. No excuses. Take no prisoners. His resume would list that first job at the sheet metal factory when he was 9 and, in two weeks, was running the floor. At age 11, he was offered the higher paying job at the tannery and at 15 he was working at a quarry. That’s a work ethic.

I was reminded of Ron Swanson this past week when I saw an article in a recent WorkForce news update. The article was called: “Rage Rooms Offer a Chance to Vent … and Smash Stuff.” The article describes a room where business people can vent their anger. The “client” pays money to swing sledgehammers and such to destroy objects in the room. The owner of the rage room can provide the items to be destroyed or, if you’re short on cash, you can bring your own and pay less.

Wikipedia says the first rage rooms to open were likely in Japan in 2008 and the concept spread to other countries, such as Serbia, England, and Argentina. Today, there are hundreds of rage rooms in cities in the United States. The room highlighted in WorkForce is located in Miami and run by a human resources person and a recruiter.

I read that article and thought how ridiculous the idea was. It suggested to me how few adults today have the coping skills of our parents and our parents, parents. Not to say there hasn’t been progress in the tools and training available to the average employee to help them cope with problems in their lives, but the sheer number of “options” available to us to help us cope today, seems mind boggling. I thought to myself how my own parents would look at a rage room and ask, “Why?”

In their world, if you had rage from work you either looked for a new job, or found an outlet on your own (exercise, etc.) Note, I am not ignorant of those that might find less productive and helpful ways of coping. And maybe things like the rage room are helping reduce some of those negative responses to stress. However, this article in Psychology Today suggests it won’t, and will actually create a bigger problem.

“Venting aggression is not a healthy long-term strategy. In a sense, rage rooms are conditioning people to convert impulses and irritations into physical assault.”

Yeah. Let’s do more of that!

Paul Hebert, HRExaminer.com 2015

Paul Hebert | Founding Member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Arrested Development

But – rage rooms aside – that was simply the nudge I needed to finally see all the various ways the organization is creating, and holding employees in a constant state of arrested development. It was evidence of how the company was infantilizing the employee’s relationship with the organization. When I wrote the words “infantilization of employees” as a note for my next HREaminer topic I thought I was brilliant. Then, like I always do, I googled the term hoping to see zero results but instead saw 141,000 results. Not zero – but in a google world, darn near it. Though one of the articles was based on an HBR article from 2005. So much for being ahead of the curve.

My research did point me to things like this:

“Unfortunately, our social institutions and technological devices seem to erode hallmarks of maturity: patience, empathy, solidarity, humility and commitment to a project greater than oneself.”


“Most corporate cultures have infantilized the workplace so much that there’s hardly any room for innovative risk-taking; boarding-school like conformity to rules; and no freedom to take autonomous decisions that may sometimes end in failure.”


“When companies treat adults like children or teenagers who cannot entirely think for themselves, then that’s exactly how they will behave.”

That’s the reason why most people stop thinking for themselves, trying new things or taking chances at work.”

Think about those quotes. Now think about today’s corporate world.

Where Are the Juice Boxes?

Employees are given everything they need to be “happy” – not unlike the playroom of a child.

Need a juice box? Just open the company refrigerator. Or – it is more likely to be beer or La Croix.

Make sure we put in place that Peer2Peer recognition program to keep everyone’s self-esteem at 11.

Let’s engineer your 401K contribution forms so they default to the highest deposit level because behavioral economics tells us you’re not mature enough to choose the appropriate level to fund your retirement. (For the record… I live for behavioral economics in my own job influencing employee and channel behaviors with incentives… but I also know they can be used as a crutch to get employees to make decisions that are in their own best interests. Kind of like giving your kids the “choice” of vegetables to trick them into thinking they are in control and eliminating the inevitable argument.)

Need something to break the monotony of the job? How about some foosball?

And now, let’s ensure you have a company sponsored rage room to take out your feelings when you lose the foosball championship.

Can you think of all the other ways we treat employees like children? I’m sure you have a few teed up already. Every new age article on employee engagement and satisfaction is just one more consultants opinion that continues to remove another employee decision. Our quest for engagement is making the company the employees new “parent.”

I think the germ of this idea came out in a previous post I wrote for HRExaminer called: The Twisted HR/Employee Relationship where I called out the codependent relationship between HR and the employee. I think that codependency is directly caused by the infantilization of the employee in today’s workforce. I believe we are doing a disservice to our employees by attempting to cover ALL their needs – and thereby making sure they don’t have to be responsible for any decisions other than the few we allow within their narrow job descriptions. Think about it. Wasn’t being a child a wonderful time? Doing what you loved, all day, nothing to worry about. Not a care in the world. Just be home when the streetlights come on. Sounds a lot like today’s engagement speak, no?

The Outlier

I do believe there is one outlier in this discussion. That would be true startups. Companies with little or no capital who are making it happen with spit and bailing wire. Those small groups of men and women are working 24/7 because of passion and desire. Those organizations don’t have the luxury of stripping maturity from the business relationship. Those organizations must handle their stuff if they want to get the job done. There are no rage rooms (maybe just Raves?) There is no “behavioral economics” crafted employment contract and benefits package. There may be a deal sheet in their future and they will grow up real fast when they have to negotiate THAT process.

But big companies, in pursuit of more productivity and faux engagement, are creating cocoons for their employees, hoping to get more and better from them. They are hoping to create employees they can then mold and control, removing any variability in performance. Think Stepford employees. HR hates friction. Infantilization may create compliance but it will not create innovation and success.

Will It Get Worse?

While I see many current initiatives empowering an arrested workforce, am even more concerned for the future. You may or may not have heard of “snow plow” and “lawn mower parents.” These parents have turned their meddling up to TurboMax, and are creating future employees with even fewer adult life skills than what we are dealing with now. This will either cause companies to do one of two things.

One… Companies will HAVE to hire infantilized employees and assume the continuing responsibility for raising them to adulthood because their parents didn’t do their job correctly. Can you say “failure to launch” for an entire generation of workers?

Or, Two… They will decide to do tough love and be prepared for quicker hire-2-fire cycles, as they bring in staff and hope they can “adult-up” and make the cut.

At some point all these new “kids” on the block will have to learn how to fish on their own.

But, it really isn’t that hard is it?