Management - Other

How to Deal with Information Hoarders at Work



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Information hoarders are insecure about their jobs and have adapted by refusing to give up facts about how they do their work. It is an emotional and behavioral process that can be severe and highly destructive in a rapidly changing workplace. In one example, an information hoarder has managed to cement him or herself into what they think is a permanent job, by having a "poison pill" to administer if they are threatened with firing or layoff. In another aspect, an information hoarder is a highly effective worker who is over worked and simply does not have time to summarize their job so that a new person can step right in and do it. In the worst aspect, the hoarder is covering for terrible work by refusing to talk about it. If there are no visible or detectable problems, the worker can remain in a destructive process for some time.

Believe it or not, the Employee Assistance Programs at most companies are not just there to label and stigmatize. They are also set up to help managers and supervisors to resolve minor behavioral, ethical, policy and emotional issues. The personnel departments have a host of ways to help both the hoarding employee and the supervisor to identify and resolve issues that are causing insecurity and inability to communicate in acceptable ways. 

At any rate, no job is that secure these days that some information hoarding does not become part of the process of being, or feeling valuable to a corporation that might let a person go at any time. Who is truly responsible for, or doing  the information hoarding?;  Would a complete work stoppage occur if the employee leaves, becomes ill, or dies? Are there indications that the job is not being performed well?  Is the individual being asked for personal and internal thought processes that make them more excellent than others in the same job? Is the individual being required, on the sly, to train an individual who is in competition for the same or a better job, but is not yet qualified?

If the supervisor or management is uninvolved, difficult to deal with, or slacking off on their own job, then a person is left in the dark about how to complete reports, summarize information, or otherwise communicate. An employee who has a complex report dumped on their desk at the last minute, with no explanation has no time to do their normal work and the extra workload, too. This is not hoarding, it is the consequence of supervisory information hoarding and lack of communication.

When a potential work stoppage or indications of covering up bad work is going on, the process is to identify the work, identify the steps needed in order to prevent a work stoppage, and to train at least two backup persons to do the job on a temporary or permanent basis. If a large battle ensues, with refusal to cooperate and threats of leaving and taking all of the knowledge, then so be it. The hoarder will walk, be reassigned with the understanding that they teach the basics needed to prevent work stoppage, or be fired for cause.

The job will be figured out, and business will go on. Most of what hoarders hoard are the little bits and pieces of corporate history, little unofficial and undocumented fixes to problems that were resolved a long time ago, and personal working relationships that make up the real job. The actual work can be quite simple to define, describe, teach, and follow up to insure that it is being done effectively. 

No one is required to give up their internal or personal processes for being excellent. This type of information hoarding is not hoarding at all. It is an individual who brought that luggage at no cost to the company, and who has a right to take it when they go. To get at such information, there has to be some serious compensation, resources and support through a formalized program,  an assignment as an instructor with a lesson plan and extra recognition in the performance evaluation or merit awards.

If there is not a formalized program and compensation of time, job security, and award for doing the additional duty of training individuals who are competing for a promotion, then lack of trust or respect for the management or the corporation will ensue. The problems that are created by forcing an employee to  train someone else before or after a promotion that the trainer feels that they should have been considered for, are legendary. The personnel department is the key to developing formal and allowable familarization and brief training programs for new hires who are headed to higher management or other jobs.

As a result, information hoarding can be from personal insecurity or behavioral problems, from lack of training or overwork that allows no time for summarizing and communicating information, or from past dealings with unethical or discriminatory supervisory, hiring, or promotion practices.

And finally, it is important to restore integrity and trust after ethical problems, wholescale dysfunction, management failures and other violations of trust that have been committed by the company. These are the major contributors to individuals developing information hoarding strategies in the first place.


More about this author: Elizabeth M Young

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