118. When a Good Employee Becomes Unreliable
Episode 118: When a Good Employee Becomes Unreliable (Summary)
A manager wrote to me recently with this question, I’ve got an employee who joined our team last year, and she does a great job, but she calls off a lot. Each time is for a perfectly good reason. Her son was sick, then her furnace died, then her dad had a fall. You get the idea. She’s a single mom like I was, so I want to be understanding and support her. I know how hard it is to juggle everything alone. She tries hard and she cares about doing a good job, but she’s not reliable and it’s creating a variety of issues on my team. Have any advice? Signed, Frustrated in Philly? Well, Frustrated, I do, in fact, have some advice. Here we go.
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*Full transcript under the comments below.
Transcript – Episode 118: When a Good Employee Becomes Unreliable
Hey there, BossHeroes. I’m taking a little break from the show this summer, but fear not because we’ve got a whole schedule of content you’ve not heard before. While I recharge my batteries, we’ve decided to share the episodes of a short but popular YouTube series I did a few years ago on how bosses cultivate commitment in the workplace. So, every other Sunday through the end of the summer, you’ll hear these quick funny lessons on how to inspire teams, get results, and be a boss that people don’t hate. You’ll even get to hear the old rock theme music we used and some recording bloopers at the end. Enjoy and thanks for all that you do to care for so many.
A manager wrote to me recently with this question, I’ve got an employee who joined our team last year, and she does a great job, but she calls off a lot. Each time is for a perfectly good reason. Her son was sick, then her furnace died, then her dad had a fall. You get the idea. She’s a single mom like I was, so I want to be understanding and support her. I know how hard it is to juggle everything alone. She tries hard and she cares about doing a good job, but she’s not reliable and it’s creating a variety of issues on my team. Have any advice? Signed, Frustrated in Philly. Well, Frustrated, I do in fact have some advice. Here we go.
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On to Frustrated in Philly’s unreliable employee.
If you’ve been a manager for more than 10 minutes, I’m sure you’ve encountered an employee like the one our emailer describes. Someone who is seemingly a good person with good intentions, but who is just not getting the job done because life outside of work hinders their ability to be 100% at work. I describe this person as “the chaos” employee. Chaos just seems to follow some people around, and it honestly may not be their fault at all, but it’s a problem for you as a leader because the work isn’t getting done.
The team is picking up the slack and everyone is getting frustrated. I suggest that circumstances like this require two phases of intervention, both in the form of one-on-one conversations with “the chaos” employee. Phase one is called the support conversation. The goal of this conversation is to clearly articulate the calling off as a pattern and a problem while offering any resources available to help this person with her challenges outside of work. Our manager in Philly should sit down with the employee and be clear about her concerns. She should say that the calling off is a problem that has to be corrected. She can acknowledge that while the employee’s circumstances may not be her fault, they are her problem to fix, then our manager needs to pivot to offering support by asking this question. What would have to change at work or at home to ensure that this doesn’t keep happening?
That conversation might provide the employee their first real opportunity to think through changes they need to make. It may also offer the manager a chance to amend some things at work that will better set up the employee for success. I once had a manager fix a complicated employee performance problem simply by changing the shift start time for an employee, which was a solution generated by this very question. This conversation is also where you encourage the employee to seek assistance from your company’s employee assistance provider or if you have them — concierge services. The idea with this first conversation is that you name the problem clearly while showing up as an ally to the employee, one who can connect her with any resources available. But what if nothing changes? What if the pattern of chaos continues? Then we move into phase two, which is the choice conversation.
The goal of this conversation is to get the employee to see themselves as having to make a choice related to the performance problem about whether they can continue in their role. Our manager in Philly should briefly recap the first conversation and the ways the problem has continued. She can then say, so we’re at a critical moment here for you and for your future with us. And then that manager should ask these three questions. Do you want to continue in this role and with our team? This pattern of calling off — is it something you can commit to changing immediately? How do we ensure that it doesn’t happen? Again, these questions make sure that the employee wants to stay and is committed to improving, and then it invites a conversation about how to move forward. If the answer to one of the first two closed-ended questions is no, then that’s a whole different conversation.
Most of the time, however, the employee says yes, and then your third question, which is open-ended, kicks off an actual dialogue about a path forward. Now, if the employee minimizes the issue or gets defensive, the manager should kindly but clearly articulate that the employee was hired for their talent, creativity, insight, and experience, but she’s not there consistently enough for those qualities to be maximized, which means then that the company is not getting what they expected, what was agreed upon what they need and what they are paying for. So, after the discussion about how she can ensure this doesn’t happen again, it’s important to describe what happens next if it does, if that’s separation, suspension, or something else, spell that out clearly while affirming your caring and support for the person in the end. Frame this conversation as a choice the employee has between getting to stay or moving on.
Now, I should stress that if you reach this conversation, it’s important to be in touch with your HR business partners and to utilize whatever tools exist in your corrective action process. Be it a performance improvement plan, a letter of warning, or whatever your process requires, because if the employee in the aftermath of this conversation can’t fix the problem, it’s likely never going to be fixed, and it will be necessary to separate this person from their position rather than letting them linger, which in turn creates even more problems for a company and on a team. Remember, you can genuinely like a person and value their work and look at them and see that their circumstances aren’t their fault and still need to hold them accountable and still need to ask them to change. It’s one of the things that makes being a supervisor tough and not always fun.
So, there you have it. I’d get all sorts of tingles if you would do two things for me right now. First, drop a comment below this video and share your thoughts on our topic. And second, share this video on LinkedIn or Facebook or wherever you are consuming this content. Thanks for watching. See you next time.
All right. How’s my pocket Square?… countered employee?… I’m gonna back that up cause I, and then that manager, manager, ba swing and a miss… sometimes, sometimes the tongue gets in the way…
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