When answering the question “how does one improve maturity in the workplace?” it depends on who’s doing the asking. Is it an employer or an employee? Each one will need to take different tacks, but if it’s only the employee dealing with unruly colleagues, it’s time for management to get involved, too. No matter how prodigious or talented a worker is, if they’ve got time to be immature, the company is losing out, because that’s the bottom line: Employee immaturity results in lost productivity and lost revenue.
Sometimes, extremely talented employees can lag behind in emotional development, resulting in workplace immaturity. These employees are often worth the effort to mentor and develop.
Everyone understands the idea of physical age, but emotional maturity age is another matter. Seemingly obvious, the concept is that some people don’t develop as well emotionally as others, and it’s these people who tend to struggle with social interactions. Often, they’ll seem perfectly fine one-on-one or in an interview, but pair them with peers on a project and it can seem like high school all over again.
- Natural narcissists: For people who’ve experienced previous situations where the rules don’t apply to them, they can lose the ability to see beyond themselves or care how things affect others. They also hate not being the center of attention and will usually insert themselves in the middle of things.
- Blame Game: A mature employee would hear a problem and try to fix it, but the immature employee would seek to blame someone.
- Dishonesty: Rather than get in trouble or disappoint someone, the emotionally immature employee often lies.
- Escalation: When situations go sideways, the immature may have an outburst or tantrum.
- Name-Calling and Other Antics: Outbursts like, “I didn’t say that!” or calling others mocking names is a clear sign of childishness but is common in the emotionally immature adult.
- Prone to Bullying: Exhibiting demanding behavior and overstepping boundaries is common among the emotionally immature. They seldom take accountability for their anger, blaming it on the actions of others rather than accepting that they might be overreaching.
For managers, there are three specific situations around immaturity in the workplace and they must decide which they’re facing. First, it may be that they’re taking over from a poor manager who allowed employees to be unruly, in which case it’s a managerial problem that needs discipline and focus to overcome.
Second, it could be an employee who’s not exceptional, merely good, but who causes grief because of their lack of employee maturity, and this may be someone to begin an exit strategy for. The third is the opposite problem, that the immature employee could be extremely talented, maybe even prodigious, and has just never been reined in, in which case some extra attention could pay off well over time.
But the important thing in all these situations is that management needs to intercede and create consequences if the behavior doesn’t ultimately improve. It’s not just behavior — it’s revenue. Their antics are costing productivity and profit losses, so getting a handle on time spent badly and disruptively is critical.
As with any difficult worker, begin by documenting the problems: what’s going on, how often, who’s feeling the impact, how have people tried to change this behavior and to what end? Then, pull the employee(s) in for a meeting and explain what the problem is, why it’s a problem and how you need for it to change. The employee must accept the issue and be open to changing it, because if they disagree that there’s a problem or are resistant to changing it, then it might be time to part ways. If, however, they’re ready to grow and change, then here are some steps to follow:
- Assign appropriate tasks: Through project challenges, the employee can improve their behavior. Have them report to a superior for each chunk of the assignment so they’re being responsible and staying engaged. Be sure the job uses all their talents and demands they deliver.
- Give frank feedback: Often, behavior gets out of control when people aren’t clear about why the behavior is inappropriate. Same thing with jobs and tasks. It’s important to speak plainly about where someone fails to make the grade and why, as well as if there are issues or shortcomings elsewhere. Say so and be crystal clear about all of it — and likewise say what’s going great and celebrate any notable successes.
- Duck the drama: Whatever the reason, some people thrive on immaturity and drama, reveling in sucking others into their vortex. Don’t allow yourself to be provoked into angst or frustration by such antics. A classic agent provocateur the public has come to know and love is Detective Jake Peralta of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", forever using his immaturity to antagonize Captain Ray Holt. The Captain brilliantly models how to be unflappable in the face of such ongoing insolence.
- Communicate openly: Often, immaturity can be a cry for attention, and a positive way to provide that attention is to communicate with the employee regularly about the projects, their accomplishments and anything else that keeps them moving forward and growing.
- Mentor them: Connect them with a wiser, more experienced coworker who can help them understand their role better and inspire them to greater things. The challenge is that the connection must be mutual for each to feel invested in developing the relationship.
If immaturity in the workplace is a problem you feel you or someone you know is contributing to, here are a few ways to step up and grow up:
- Keep relationships professional: Don’t talk about hangovers or complain about significant others; keep personal talk to a minimum. Similarly, don’t wait around the water cooler for juicy gossip — it can signal to others that you don’t value discretion and shouldn’t be trusted with sensitive topics.
- Ask for help and stay focused: Make eye contact with those talking and always be in the moment for meetings and collective conversations. This way, if you’re floundering and need help, you can confidently ask for it without making others ponder whether "maybe if you’d pay more attention, you wouldn’t need the extra help".
- Be memorable and follow through: If you get a seat in meetings, it’s because someone thinks you belong there. Be confident and contribute. If you offer to take responsibility for anything or accept tasks, then do what you promised.
- Make an impression: Walk with good posture, keep your head up when you enter a room, make eye contact, initiate handshakes and, as the saying goes, be sure to “dress for the job you want.” When you put a better foot forward, you’ll feel it internally too. Soon, you begin believing you’re that person (because you are).
- Be punctual: Show up on time, not just for work but for calls, coffees, work-adjacent events and especially meetings. Being late says a few things — you had other priorities, you’re not organized and even that you just don’t care. Don’t let that be the message conveyed by merely forgetting to pay attention to the time.
Remember, maturity isn't something we're born with, we learn and grow into it. Sometimes, people just need the right nudge at an opportune moment. If someone starts showing signs of gaining maturity, support them by treating them like a grown-up.