Guarding the Dog Days of Summer: Watch out for employees who help too much

Grace always finds the way to guard what she considers to be her territory.

Grace always finds a way to guard what she considers to be her territory even though I don’t expect it of her; it also creates undue stress on her. Here she sits claiming stake to a new flower bed I attempted to grow. I’m not sure who she thought might endanger it, but she was there to make sure it was not harmed! Very sweet, but not quite necessary, either.

One of the jobs that Grace takes seriously is her desire to guard. She feels an obligation to guard the house, the yard, her marrow bones treats (from the cats), and of course, she guards me. Her piercingly sharp bark alerts us to anything moving outside, especially children or anyone on a bike.  She often bellows until the offender is gone, despite the variety of methods I’ve tried to let her know all is good.

One might think I should be grateful, after all, this is the job of many fine dogs. However, there are two issues in our situation. First, I’ve never asked her to serve as guardian, nor has it been my expectation that she uphold this duty. And given her small size and fearful demeanor, this responsibility stresses her out, quite the opposite of feeling safe and secure, as I would want her to feel in her own home. I adore her for wanting to help, though it becomes problematic for everyone in the household, most especially her!

Have you ever had an employee jump right in to fix a problem that doesn’t exist? Or perhaps serve as a white knight, even though it would be better handled by someone else? 

Even with the right intentions, as with Grace who wants to protect us, misdirected activities cause bigger issues in the long-run. When you find that an employee has taken on a task that isn’t suitable, for whatever reason, you do need to intervene before it gets out of hand. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Recognize that it’s not appropriate. This may sound obvious, but lots of times I see situations persist because there isn’t the recognition of who should be handling the situation. Sometimes we let a task fall to someone because there is a void of anyone doing it. We let it slide because it seems to be working, but other tensions begin to fester if we aren’t proactive to figure it out correctly. Just because the phone needs answering during the receptionist’s lunch break every day, doesn’t mean that your top salesperson should jump in to cover it (routinely, that is; offering a hand in a pinch is a good thing). What you don’t want is an employee who takes it upon herself to complete tasks that haven’t been agreed upon as necessary and appropriate to all.
  • Address the situation directly. Talk to the employee and let them know you appreciate his intention to help. Then outline the reasons why it isn’t in the best interests for him to continue what he is doing, despite how helpful it may appear. In the example above, share with the salesperson how her time is more productive focusing on her existing prospects and clients (to reiterate, this would be the case for ongoing coverage versus a one-time fill-in).
  • Know that one conversation isn’t going to fix the problem. If the benevolent employee has gotten into a habit of helping where they believe it is needed, it’s unlikely they will stop easily or quickly. You’ll need to monitor the situation closely and be ready with swift reminders of the new approach. Be patient, but firm.

It’s wonderful when people (and dogs) want to help us out. They mean well and want the best outcomes, but that isn’t always accomplished with their direct involvement. Creating awareness of when and how they can contribute is a better way to serve everyone’s needs. I wish I could report that I’ve been more successful in redirecting Grace’s efforts, though I continue to try.

What are ways that you have transformed the misguided efforts of a team member so that everyone benefits? 



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  1. judyringer on July 30, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I really appreciate your direct and respectful approach to managing employees, Robin. Thank you, as always!

    • Robin on July 30, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Thank you so much, Judy! You’ve hit on two key components of a productive interaction! I treasure your insights here.

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