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Small Business Help Line

Small Business Help Line

How to Deal With Disgruntled Employees

Question: I manage an employee who has been with our firm for several years. When she started out, she had enthusiasm for her job and got along with her co-workers. Now it seems like she has no desire to do her job well and her bad attitude is starting to rub off on other employees. What should I do?

Answer: Few issues cause supervisors to gnash their teeth more than the employee who is, maddeningly, both above and below the baseline of appropriate work performance. Schedule a performance evaluation as a way to draw your first line in the sand. Set a pre-meeting before the evaluation and start it this way: “Your performance review is coming up. So there are no surprises when you read it, I want to address some of the things you do that impact the business of this department.”

The phrase “business impact” can help to depersonalize the issues, moving them away from a personality clash. For instance, “You’re only mad about these because you’ve never liked me” and back to how this employee’s apathy, tardiness and misuse of the telephone hurt the business overall.

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Focus on behavior-based language, not label-based language. “You’re always late” should be replaced with: “On Monday you came in 15 minutes late and on Tuesday you were 30 minutes late.”

“You make too many personal phone calls” should be redirected into: “I notice you spend a lot of personal time on the phone. I want you to handle your personal issues on your actual breaks or lunches only. It’s not fair to the other employees and it impacts the operation of our business when you’re not available to help out.”

Continue the meeting by asking for immediate compliance with these issues. Further, say that the pending review will include a Performance Improvement Plan, which may include daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly behavioral and performance goals.

Have your Human Resources Department assist you with drafting an appropriate, legal and realistic Performance Improvement Plan. Be ready for some resistance by the employee. If you see improvement (even in tiny amounts), reward with praise immediately. If you don’t see any improvement, be ready to move to the next steps in progressive discipline. Remember, it’s always up to the employee to change, improve or comply, not the supervisor.

Written by Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, the managing director for Albrecht Training & Development, a San Diego-based seminar and coaching firm.

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