The Theory of Learned Helpless


Probably every owner of a business has at least once faced the following situation. The HR specialist have employed the qualified managers. The boss relies on the high proficiency level and hopes that they will raise his business like ancient titans. But some time later the new employees show poor results. The hires the assessment specialists but the last claim that the proficiency level and skills of the managers meet all the demands. But even at the first sight any psychologist will notice that the passivity and sluggishness of the employees is based on the control of the boss. The last is afraid that they would soon feel relaxed and start making numerous mistakes and allow themselves to leave the incomplete tasks as they are.

Actually the situation described is typical of many companies. It received the name “the theory of learned helpless” and was documented and analyzed by the American psychologist Martin Seligman in 1964.

Having carried out a large number of experiments and research Martin Seligman found out that the learned helpless appears when the situation which we can’t control happens regularly. After the series of experiments with dogs he made a conclusion that the learned helpless is caused not by the difficulties but by the absence of the possibility to change the situation. In that way the employees cease their attempts to manage the situation on their own if their boss makes all the important decisions for them and supervises each their step.

Even the initiative and active person will tun into lazy and careless one if all his attempts to cope with the problems without any help from the boss are constantly being cut out. The main factor of this situation is the accepting the fact that nothing depends on the efforts of the employee. The learned helpless makes the people consider even the easiest tasks to be the extremely complicated ones.

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