Please find some links and notes from the 2 Regular Guys Podcast. This week’s show on 2 Regular Guys is all about dealing with problem employees. We often say, your life changes forever the day you hire your first employee. On this show, we discussed the kinds of problem employees you may meet, and how to deal with them. We also welcomed special guest, Michael Robertson, SGIA President & CEO, to discuss the recent SGIA Expo in Las Vegas.
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Michael Robertson – SGIA
- What was your impression of this year’s Expo?
- How would you compare this year’s event to last year or earlier Expo’s?
- Any news come out of this year’s show? (Garment Decoration Zone)
- Next Year – Atlanta, GA (November 4-6, 2015)
Dealing with Problem Employees
It’s the employee we justify in one way or another. “Look the other way.” “Hope things will get better.” “He doesn’t really mean anything by it.” “She’s just a little high-strung.”
At one time or another, we’ve all had to deal with the “bad apple” employee. Someone who basically does his job, but tends to make life miserable for everyone working around him, including you. We’ve all known someone who makes the workplace just a little more stressful and uncomfortable every day. Maybe you know one today.
When this person is out sick, or goes on vacation, is work a little less stressful, a little more fun? Does it feel as if a dark cloud has lifted from your office or production floor?
Bad attitudes, even ones kept clenched behind tight lips, affect every other employee to one degree or another, causing anything from outright pain and suffering to the feeling that they’re walking on egg shells.
Most people go to work every day just to do their job, provide for their families, and maybe get some satisfaction from their efforts in the process. But considering we spend a good part of our waking hours in the workplace, all the eccentricities of our individual personalities become part of the workplace. Uniqueness is fine, and individuality should be encouraged. But one bad apple can affect other employees, their work, their productivity, and the way they feel about their jobs.
This person stirs the pot of trouble by prodding others into questioning authority, decisions, rules and policies. I’ve seen this to the extreme, where an instigator actually prodded another employee into quitting the company when management did not agree to her vacation time request during the busiest week of the year. The employee walked away from a long time position, slightly bewildered at her own decision to make such a demand. The instigator watched silently and shamelessly as it happened.
For personal gain or simply for twisted pleasure, the instigator will often pit one employee against another, even going from employee group to employee group, dropping matches into the tinder and causing distress and disturbance along the way. Hiding quietly in the background, feigning innocence, they are sometimes difficult to detect.
Also a quiet operator, the underminer makes sure things don’t go well by putting forth a minimal effort or leaving out a key ingredient to the process, quietly causing things to go awry.
The underminer often feels slighted in some way by management or a coworker and deals with the problem by throwing a wrench into the gears of an operation, causing production quotas to fall short and customer requests to go unanswered. The underminer might also on occasion be an instigator as well.
“Don’t talk to me. Don’t approach me. Don’t invade my personal space. Don’t touch my tools… because you don’t know how I might react.”
Unlike the quiet instigator, or the underminer, the intimidator is loud and often obnoxious. The title implies physical intimidation, but more common is the confrontational intimidation. Other employees simply choose to sidestep the chance of this confrontation. Never knowing how this person may react and expecting at least a verbal tirade, other employees avoid the intimidator at all costs.
The result is that everyone’s job becomes more difficult to do because the intimidator’s contribution to the process is neither requested nor desired. Your other employees tend to work around this person and try to make production work without having to speak to the intimidator.
This person often means well, but just can’t find it within himself or herself to have anything good to say. It’s always too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, to something for this employee to be able to do his job properly.
Something is always wrong, and of course, it’s never his or her fault. The complainer is also prone to on-the-job injury, usually the variety that is difficult to detect until the employee complains of pain or discomfort.
What are we going to do to deal with these employees?
Returning to the apple analogy, sometimes the only way to save the good ones is by throwing out the bad ones. We must either remove the offending employee’s sour attitude, or remove them from the workplace. That’s the bad news. The good news is that having a bad attitude does not place the employee in a recognized and protected class of citizens, according to any laws I’m aware of. A bad, disruptive attitude can be legitimate grounds for termination.
Sometimes, you don’t even realize what a detriment to your organization one of these people has been until they leave. And when they do, it’s as if an uncomfortable burden has been lifted from employees on the production floor. You then think to yourself, “If I had only realized how this person had affected morale, productivity, efficiency and quality, I would have done something about it a long time ago.”
Dealing with bad apples is a multistep process. Out of fairness, it’s your job to explore the reasons for their attitudes. I believe that some redeeming value or inherent good is present in all people. I tend to take giving people the benefit of the doubt to the extreme. On the other hand, you’re running a business, not a free psychiatric clinic. In fact, the biggest favor you can do for your own bad apple might simply be termination as they must learn their negative attitude has consequences and has hurt the company’s productivity and it’s morale. They will have ample time to reflect on the reason for their termination while pursuing other employment.
As a manager, there are ways of handling a bad apple employee situation before it reaches the point where termination is necessary. Everyone deserves the opportunity to correct errant ways, especially – and this is important – if you have allowed this attitude problem to persist for a long time without dealing with it.
A documented warning is the fair way to approach the problem initially. My experience in dealing with bad apples has taught me to calmly but directly point out the offending behavior to the employee and cite specific examples. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially with a volatile person. But the direct approach is your best course of action.
Of course, as with all your staff meetings, this meeting should be in the privacy of your own office. It’s critical to take a “matter of fact” approach. Do not allow the meeting to become just another opportunity for confrontation.
You should not only point out the offending behavior to the employee, but also point out the effect this person’s actions have on coworkers. But avoid focusing too closely on one “victim” or another. You want to avoid other employees becoming targets of this offender’s wrath.
In your meeting, you must specifically ask the employee to correct the behavior, and you must do it with a smile. I usually say something like, “Not only do you have to make a change in the way you do this or the way you approach that, but here’s the rub: You have to do it with a good attitude.” Remember, having a bad attitude is not a protected class of employee.
At times, I’ve been pushed so far (usually an inherited employee) that I’ve had to threaten termination if the employee has one more infraction. Usually, a person who reaches this extreme will choose to leave of their own accord and not face being fired for what is often an uncontrollable personality trait. Having a lousy attitude is sometimes a person’s chosen way of life, inside and outside of the workplace.
But if you put your foot down and face them with termination, you must be willing to follow through with it when the time comes.
Usually you can set up a multi-step approach to firing a bad apple, just as you would do with any normal termination. A documented verbal warning first, followed by a documented written warning, and finally a documented termination. The entire process should follow this pattern:
1) Identify negative attitudes and how these attitudes affect other workers, productivity, etc.
2) Bring the offending employee into your office and calmly point out this behavior and its specific results upon your company. (A verbal warning.)
3) With the employee’s input, lay out a detailed plan of improvement. At this point, your employee may not be willing to improve. The verbal and written warning process should still be followed. You will have to lay out the improvement requirements without the help of your offending employee.
4) Follow up with the employee’s progress at scheduled intervals. (Poor progress results in one or more written warnings.)
5) Be willing to terminate the employee if your mutually agreed upon plan is not solving the problem.
Sometimes after your first meeting, a bad apple will actually make a 180 degree turn and become a better employee – and a more pleasant human being in the process. Just as often, your attempt to change a person’s approach to work and to life will be a disappointment and may result in a termination. Your best effort is all that anyone can expect. As a manager, part of your job is to offer the opportunity for improvement. Your employee’s job is to either seize that opportunity or to move on.
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