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5/4/2003

Managing trouble on the job at right time

By Richard Honey
Special to the Times-Call

When is it the “right” time to approach a subordinate about bad behavior or job performance?

Your decision will be felt far and wide within your organization. This is not a task to be taken lightly; your “right time” may not be their “right time.”

Consider the assets this individual brings to the organization and weigh your options heavily. If the individual has engaged in inconsiderate behavior toward another staff member, you must act quickly — or you may lose at least one productive staff member. If, on the other hand, the individual has engaged in inconsiderate behavior toward you, you have a little more time to choose your course of action.

It is important to try to understand the reason for the behavior. Was it a lack of self control? Was the individual goaded?

Do not allow yourself to apportion blame until you have heard from both parties. Just as in a court of law, both parties deserve to be heard before sentence is passed.

At the outset, you, the manager, must decide on the timing and approach needed for the investigation and disciplinary action, if any. At any time in the process, one or both of your staff members might decide to leave your employment. If you react too quickly without knowing all the facts, the accused will feel unfairly treated and might leave. If, on the other hand, you take too long to investigate the situation, the so-called victim might feel that you condone this kind of behavior in the workplace and will move to a better working environment.

With behavioral problems in the workplace, you must have a process of investigation followed by corrective action — warnings are adequate for lesser offenses, until, and if, such actions are repeated. Once reported, or seen, do not let inappropriate behavior slip by without some kind of corrective action.

Generally, for minor offenses, I would draw the attention of the organization to the “appropriateness” of this certain kind of behavior, rather than singling out the individual. Often this gets results without any “he said, she said” gossip going around or any confrontation with the specific employee.

When it comes to an individual’s ability to do the job for which they were hired, you must consider that you hired them. Was there a misunderstanding about job description? An inaccurate resume? Examine your application and interview processes to see if there is a way to avoid such mismatches in the future.

If you feel the individual does have the experience necessary to perform the tasks for which he was hired, it is helpful to know if he is experiencing personal difficulties — although he is under no obligation to tell you. I would suggest you tread lightly.

Maybe his resume is accurate but you are having him perform a majority of tasks for which he is over-qualified. This leads to a sense of boredom.

Everybody realizes that most jobs involve some mundane tasks; however, it is important that you stretch the ability of your staff. Try to make the majority of their workload something that will keep them engrossed and challenge them.

When dealing with a staff member that is not, in your view, performing his tasks in a satisfactory manner, inquire as too how he feel about his job and the work he is being asked to perform. In my experience, employees like to feel productive and challenged in the workplace.

Maybe you have hired that person into the wrong position. If this is the case, re-examine his position and make good use of the skills they have — even if it means moving him to another position within the company.

It is rare that adults misbehave or under-achieve for no reason. Be careful in your job application processes. Make sure you are matching an employee and his skills with the tasks you are hiring for. In all cases, when you feel you have to confront an employee for bad behavior or under-performance, get to know the facts first. Do not jump to conclusions and place the individual on the defensive.

The underlying reasons for such behavior might allow you to forge a new relationship with this employee if you are able to help him. This will provide you with a loyal and long-lasting member of staff.

Richard Honey teaches team management and life building skills. He can be reached at 720-935-0287