What’s the number one mistake employers make regarding problem employees? They do nothing, and hope it will go away.
The problem is, of course, that it doesn’t go away by itself. The poor behaviors or performance continue, or get worse. Co-workers become angry and demoralized. Management looks weak. Actions are taken that just compound the problem, e.g., fearful of an employee’s anger, management gives the employee an assignment that everyone knows will end badly.
From a coaching perspective, management needs to answer several questions to get to a place of action. First, what are the barriers to taking action? Second, what can be done to overcome those barriers? And third, what is the proper framework for taking action once the decision to go forward has been made? The third question is one for HR or an employment attorney to answer. The former are discussed below.
What stops managers from doing what they know needs to be done – often for a very long time? Some of the reasons include: lack of support from higher up management, uneasiness with confrontation, fear of doing something illegal, sympathy for the problem employee, lack of time, or lack of knowledge on how to do it. All decent reasons. But ultimately, not good enough. And when the inevitable meltdown or explosion comes, these excuses will sound pretty lame.
So what can be done to overcome these barriers? The exact steps will depend on the specific situation, but certain generic advice is possible:
- Decide to make the time to address the problem. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey has a wonderful chapter on time management in which he writes that a common mistake many people make is they don’t make time for tasks that are important but not urgent. Dealing with a difficult employee is a classic example of this. So the first step is to realize that this is an important part of your job.
- Sit down and analyze exactly what the problem is, what has been done about it to date, what has led to inaction in the past, and what might be a good approach.
- Get the support you need from upper management and HR. A supervisor or manager cannot and should not take on something like this without guidance and support.
And finally, realize that it takes courage and leadership to take on certain unpleasant tasks. Take a deep breath, tell yourself you have those qualities, and just say now. It may not be easy, but it’s an opportunity for strength and growth. ~AS