Thursday 19 September 2019

Crust almighty! Is your boss 'breadcrumbing' you?

Does your boss praise you just as you’re near burnout? Stock photo
Does your boss praise you just as you’re near burnout? Stock photo

Tanya Sweeney

If you've spent more than five minutes on Tinder or Bumble, you'll probably be well used to the 'breadcrumbing' drill by now.

 It's where a potential partner keeps throwing you scraps of flirty affection to keep you enthused, without any real intention of taking things any further.

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Unfortunately, commitment-phobia isn't just limited to online dating - it's airborne, and possibly heading towards the Irish workplace.

It could well be that your boss is leading you on, though not in a #MeToo way. Rather, they drop enough thin compliments or dangle enough carrots in front of employees to keep them enthused. There may be plenty of talk about possible promotions, big projects or professional collaborations. Yet no matter how hard an employee works, they somehow always end up empty-handed, or workplace advancement remains at large.

A classic scenario is when someone is given enough work to keep them pretty occupied, so they don't realise their own ideas and projects never get a chance to materialise. Some bosses squeak out a compliment or positive feedback at the very point where an employee looks jaded with work, or seems on the verge of professional burnout.

Organisational psychologists have actually had a term for this workplace phenomenon for a long time: 'intermittent reinforcement' is how bosses get their subordinates to do exactly what they want, while doling out barely-there rewards and plaudits.

They want to keep a person that may not be worthy of a senior title or more responsibility in the organisation, without the hassle of having to replace them with another recruit.

There are signs to look out for if you feel you may be the victim of workplace breadcrumbing: is your boss actively developing you as an employee, or just talking about it? Is there talk of pay rises or promotions without any follow-through?

Are others being sent on training courses that have nothing to do with their immediate workload - a sign the boss is investing in their long-term prospects, but not yours?

In the current workplace culture, bosses expect plenty from their staff, from picking up after-hour emails to the odd weekend in the office. Yet this should go both ways. A good employer will know that developing someone's long-term career will keep enthusiasm and productivity levels high, but they need to follow through and make that investment, too. If it's not happening to you as a staff member, it could be time to swipe right on that particular professional path.

Breadcrumbing isn't the only dating buzzword that has somehow found its way into the office. 'Gaslighting' is a deceptive situation where a person is convinced that something they believe to be true is untrue, causing them to doubt their own instincts. Think of a time when someone has denied flirting with someone else, even though you have witnessed said interaction with your own eyes.

How does this extend to the workplace? It could be that you are being pitted against a colleague, or a boss is telling you that you might be struggling in a new role, when you know full well you're not. Perhaps someone has labelled you as emotional or sensitive, without any clear reason why. If you're constantly second-guessing yourself, it may be time to bring the situation, with as much written evidence as possible, to HR.

'Ghosting' (where someone cuts off communication with nary a warning) is something we are all too familiar with in dating, and it's happening in workplaces too.

In a particularly strong job market, employees are giving potential bosses the cold shoulder by ignoring job offers or being a no-show on the first day of a new job without any explanation. Or worse, just picking up and leaving the office without so much as an 'I'll be back after lunch'. Of course, employers aren't entirely without sin here either: they can ignore pitches and emails (even though you can see they've been read), or cancel meet-ups at the last minute.

It could be said that in a breakneck workplace culture, people are so busy and stressed, there's no time for courtesy anymore. But we don't need to put up with it on Tinder, and we're certainly not being paid enough to deal with it at work.

Whether you're a boss or a staffer, adopt the mantra of doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you, and hope that everyone else feels the same.

Irish Independent

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