HR Learner in Development

New Year, New Behaviors? A Look at Detrimental Work Behaviors

Posted on: January 1, 2011

Don't let this be you (giving or receiving end). Work towards better communication to improve productivity and value within the next year.

Going ahead into a new year gives rise to annual reflection and resolution.  For my blog, this means trying to stick to a more regimented schedule as many of you will notice, my posts are quite sporadic.  So I am taking up the Post a Week 2011 Campaign.  Call me out on it if you see me slipping!

In business, one of the most important reflections any boss or employee needs to make is that of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity.  How can you as an individual make changes in the upcoming year to improve your performance and your business? Employers of course will look at their employees and determine how to better lead their people.  But what happens if expectations are not being met?  I implore  boss and employee alike to take a hard look at what can be improved and when it might be time to move on.

The choice to fire is of course a difficult one.  Most employers will say that it is one of the hardest things they have to do in their job and or career.  Many in fact avoid firing due to the stress of putting someone else out, or they make excuses that there are workarounds to the short comings of an unproductive employee.  Yet as a whole, the working environment may be better off without those problem employees.

Some of the signs that an employ may be better off working elsewhere include:

  1. Lethargic Work Behaviors
  2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back
  3. Policy Violation(s)
  4. Continued inability to perform

I’ll go into each to discuss the impact on the business, what a boss can do, and what an employee can do to correct the negative situation before things go too far.

1. Lethargic Work Behaviors – This could be systematic of a number of work related or non-work related (sleep deprivation, illness, etc) circumstances, but it clearly has an impact on productivity.  Lethargy or a slow, tired dredge through the work day can most seriously be a sign of a disengagement; the employees lack of interest in what they are doing and why.  Managers must have a serious discussion with individuals who present these behaviors.  Maybe the employee has lost sight or never truly knew where they fit within the organization or why their role is important.  Managers need to remind these people of where they create value.  On the other hand, if the employee knows exactly how he or she fits into the organization and is unmotivated by it, a change is needed.  Whether that change happens within the organization or outside of it depends on the need of both organization and the employee.  If a supervisor comes to you saying that they have notice lethargic behaviors, try to ask them how long they expect certain tasks to take; your boss may have unrealistic expectations of what your job entails.  Work with your boss to set a plan of overcoming the hurdles of your everyday tasks.  What can be done differently on your end?  What can be done differently by the manager to help you accomplish your job responsibilities?

2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back – While many don’t realize,  a negative attitude is cancerous to an organization.  This issue really needs to be addressed least the negative attitude of the problem employee spills into the mindset of other workers.  This could be anything from back talk with a manager or supervisor which calls question to that supervisor’s legitimacy, to bashing a product, to being generally uncooperative. For a manager to not address these issues makes it acceptable both for that individual to continue those behaviors, but also makes it acceptable for others to do the same.  This creates a negative work environment, and engagement suffers  significantly.  Managers, take the time to speak to the problem employee and let them know that these attitudes should be corrected.  If you know you are one of these problem employees, ask yourself why.   Do you not respect the people or the work you are doing?  If not, consider other options.  Don’t risk being called out.  If there are no other options for you, seriously consider the alternative of being out of a job because of your behavior.  Can you afford it?  Don’t take it for granted that you will always get away with your poor attitude.  If at all possible, try to turn it around.  If you can’t speak to your supervisor about it directly, try turning to HR to get some suggestions on turning yourself into an employee you and your organization can be proud of.

3.  Policy Violation – The seriousness of a policy violation varies, but on every account, these violations should be handled equally across the board for all employees.  Some policy violations certainly create an imperative to fire instantly, after the violation has been confirmed.  Some examples include discovering ineligibility, violation of a harassment policy and breach of contractual agreements.  Other policy violations may be less severe.  If an employee breaks a certain one of these lesser policies, it is the responsibility of the supervisor or manager to let that employee know what was done and to punish accordingly.  There are some cases where an employee legitimately is unaware of the policy, so the manager must make sure that everyone is on the same page going forward.   On the employee end of the matter, be sure to read the policy manual (if it exists).  There may be an organization policy, area policy, and/or department policy.  Be sure to follow each and every one.  If they conflict be sure to bring it up with your manager.  If you recognize that you have violated a policy, be aware and don’t do it again!  This is one of the easiest ways to lose out on promotion, credibility, or your job.  Work with your manager on rebuilding trust.

4. Continued Inability to Perform – Legally, an employer would be wise to fire in this instance only if they have gone through clear and detectable steps towards working with the employee to correct problem behaviors. That being said, progressive discipline is generally the best route in most situations (baring the instant fire situations previously mentioned within policy guidelines).  In order for progressive discipline to work, it must be done for all situations for all employees, favored or problematic.  Progressive discipline is often set forth by the organization itself, but if not, the general gist is simple.  An employee does something wrong, the manager discusses it with the employee and takes note of date, instance, and what was said on both sides.  Some form of punishment may be put in place.  If an employee continues to do something wrong, the manager again discusses the issue with the employee and escalates the punishment, also bringing it to the attention of an additional set of ears and eyes, usually in Human Resources.  Again, the manager writes down what happened, when the discussion took place and what was said.  Finally, if the behavior continues, the manager would most likely have the grounds to fire as soon as the instance was properly confirmed.  The manager should always consult with Human Resources before making these termination decisions.   The number of instances most depends on a policy set in place by the organization, but if not, should be consistent with the needs of the organization.  If you are on the employee end of this, take every effort to turn things around early.  If you feel like you are being singled out, bring it to Human Resources, or if all else fails, a lawyer.  No one should feel like they are being treated differently for anything relating to race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, or retaliation.  For more information, consult the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) website.

One final situation of note is the instance of the loyal, previously star performer who has been promoted to a role he or she is unable to perform.  Please keep in mind that these individuals are an asset to your organization, but if they are not meeting the basic requirements of their new role, should be scaled back.  Manager, this must be done tactfully.  Employees who have been promoted have probably gotten used to the fact that they are going to hold on to that role for a long period of time.  Remind your employee of the job responsibilities, and refer to the job description.  Employee, try to not take offense, you should have seen this coming.  Either find a way to work with your manager to improve the skills you lack for your new role, or graciously accept that this current role is not for you.  I know there are many companies who will then manage the individual out of the organization, but again, you may be surprised to find this employee shine in another role entirely.

Firing should be a last resort, but if done properly could prove to be in the best interest of the organization, the supervisor, the team, and even the individual being let go.  Here’s to 2011, a year of clearer communication, a greater sense of purpose, higher levels of respect, and overall improvement.

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