Poor employee performance: a cast of characters

How to handle a poor performer

An employee who demonstrates issues with attitude, productivity, attendance or other areas is sometimes easy to ignore. This is especially true if others cover and/or pitch in to ensure that the work gets done. It is much easier to reward those hard workers than it is to address the one who is causing difficulty.

But such an employee has an impact on a business in ways that may not have been considered. An employee who is not pulling his or her weight becomes fodder for conversation among the rest of the staff. There may be an impact on productivity, morale and customer service. While employees want to know that one mistake does not mean the end of their career, they also want to know that the employer will address those who are not contributing to the entire enterprise in a positive, consistent and meaningful way.

When confronting the problematic performer, the goal should be to help turn the employee’s performance around. In most cases, it will cost less to invest the time and effort that may be needed to address and correct such an employee’s performance than it will to recruit, hire and train a replacement. On the other hand, if the employee is unable or unwilling to bring performance to expectations, prior notice and good documentation of the issues will be critical to a successful termination.

Here are examples of classic performance issues and some management strategies to address them.

Abby Absent

This is the person who has to leave early because she doesn’t feel well, can’t get in on time or has her husband or mother call in for her because she is sick. And she has a lot of paid time off available and uses it.

When addressing absenteeism, our job is not to make a judgment about the validity of the reason the employee is out. Rather, the employee needs to be reminded that unscheduled absences are to be kept to a minimum, and that in those rare instances when s/he is not going to come in as scheduled, you expect to hear from him/her – not a neighbor, not a friend, not a voicemail message. Additionally, too many unscheduled absences, even for understandable reasons, may lead to further disciplinary action, including termination.

Attendance issues may take some time to address, particularly with someone who exhibits chronic absenteeism. Communicating and documenting expectations with regard to unscheduled absences, and advising the employee what will happen if he or she falls short of those expectations, is a good start. Employers also are reminded to consult workers’ compensation laws and state and federal leave laws to ensure compliance with any relevant provisions while addressing attendance issues.

Chatty Charlie

Charlie loves to socialize – with his office mates, with customers, vendors and business callers. It is as if work is an interruption of his talk time. You hate to deter him; he brings a level of enthusiasm and friendliness that is important to your business. But he spends so much time chatting with people, he’s a distraction, work isn’t getting done, he’s away from his desk a lot and no one can locate him while he is around the building “visiting.”

Let’s face it: We spend 80% of our waking hours with the people with whom we work. But if your employee views his job as a social event, it may be advisable to remind him what the expectations are of his position, where he is falling short and how his “visiting” negatively impacts overall operations.

Sharing Shelly, the Drama Queen

Shelly has a myriad of personal issues, and she wants everyone to know about all of them — medical appointments, family issues, financial difficulties, social life. Worse, she likes to “opinion-shop,” so everyone in the workplace knows all about these issues (which means more down time as everyone converses about them) and gets involved in her dilemmas. She also spends work time on personal phone calls and e-mails.

The danger in this situation is that we think we can help this person. Do you have an EAP program? If not, can you offer her a leave of absence to take care of whatever the personal issues are that are preventing her from doing her job? Does some aspect of her situation trigger a Family and Medical Leave Act or similar family leave entitlement? Ultimately, the focus should remain on communications about what performance expectations she is not meeting and what will happen if that continues.

Marvin Martinet

Marvin was a wonderful customer service representative. He was responsive, knowledgeable and dependable, customers liked him and he stayed current with the latest enhancements to your service/product. Marvin also frequently offered helpful suggestions for improvement. So when a supervisory position opened up, it was a logical move to promote him. But now, those helpful improvements he used to suggest have been turned into tyrannical policies, and he is having a bad impact on morale.

Talented employees do not always turn out to be talented managers. They need coaching and assistance along the way to help them transition into their new role. Let Marvin know what’s going well, what isn’t going so well and offer him supervisory training that helps him learn how to manage the business of managing people.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to problematic employee performance issues. Giving feedback to an employee who is exhibiting substandard conduct or performance can be a daunting task. In all cases, consider consulting with a human resources professional or legal counsel for assistance in addressing these issues.

Dana Scott, a human resource and benefits consultant with Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell P.A., regularly assists businesses with employee benefit issues, drafting and implementing employee handbooks, affirmative action plans and other personnel matters. For more information, contact her at scott@gcglaw.com or 800-528-1181.

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