Understanding Enabling

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Enabling at work is behavior exhibited by coworkers or supervisors that helps an addicted and/or troubled employee not realize or face the consequences of his or her problem behavior resulting directly or indirectly from personal problems. Enabling typically appears as the “right” thing to do in response to the problem behavior but helps the troubled employee escape responsibility for actions or problematic events. The ability of the troubled employee to deny, rationalize, externalize, and minimize problems while having others accept excuses and explanations helps the troubled or addicted employee get sicker.


Enabling may be so well accomplished that the addicted or troubled employee may appear to function and perform well. In the earliest stages this person may be perceived as the most competent, well-liked, and socially accepted worker in the organization. As the underlying personal problems grow worse, performance difficulties follow – and enabling increases. The troubled employee’s past history of job success without problems may span decades. This keeps managers unsuspecting of personal problems or addiction. They easily rationalize the job performance issues. But these job performance issues are symptoms of underlying personal concerns and will progress until enabling stops and the troubled employee is confronted with the responsibility for his or her own actions. Supervisors or coworkers are easily led or manipulated to excuse, help, make-up-for, or in other ways support and protect the addicted or troubled employee.

Due to inaccurate information and mistaken beliefs about alcoholism or addictive disease, people who are close to the addict (alcoholic) “enable.” This behavior pattern occurs not only in personal relationships with addicts, but also when persons in relationship attempt to control each other, both at home and at work.


Eventually the enabling behavior may become so automatic and institutionalized in the company, that only a crisis will break the pattern. Often this crisis is one that causes extreme embarrassment, financial loss, or other cost to the organization.  Unfortunately, the response to such crises is often termination or transfer at great expense to the organization. The loss of a potentially valuable employee is the real tragedy. Sometimes a medical leave of absence is arranged for employees who have become too ill to function. When this happens, the employees may lose their sense of urgency to obtain treatment because they are no longer confronted with the immediate consequences of their problematic behaviors.

For guidance on how to effectively engage a troubled employee in treatment, address job performance concerns and stop enabling in the workplace, consult with an EAP specialist. PAS management consultants are available to provide guidance on employee performance concerns, workgroup or organizational enabling and successfully engaging a troubled employee in appropriate treatment for the personal issues that impact performance in the workplace.

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