Your Office Coach: Use disciplinary policy to deal with problem workers

Q: Two of my employees seem to have absolutely no interest in doing a good job. They arrive late, ignore deadlines, and drag out every task to avoid additional work. If I bring this up, they threaten to call in sick and stay out for several days. Because we work for a large retail chain, their absence would create a lot of problems.

I finally got tired of the ongoing arguments and decided to just leave these two alone. However, their laziness has now begun to create problems with the rest of the staff. My top performers resent having to pick up the slack, while the more marginal employees are starting to copy their behaviors.

When I asked my manager how I should handle this, he didn’t have much to say. He told me to follow the company’s disciplinary policy, but he never explained how that works. I know I shouldn’t tolerate this behavior, but how do I stop it?

A: Since your boss sounds rather apathetic, I’m glad that you grasp the seriousness of this situation. By letting these slackers intimidate you into submission, you have essentially abdicated your leadership role and allowed their slothfulness to infect your entire group. So now it’s time to don your supervisory hat and put an end to this blackmail.

Despite his failure to provide much guidance, your manager was correct in his advice. Any large company will have a clearly defined performance management process administered by the human resources department. The HR manager should be able to offer specific suggestions for applying that policy to your troublesome twosome.

Once you and the HR manager have agreed on a plan, go back to your boss and ask for his support in taking the required steps. Given your history with this rebellious pair, getting them in line is likely to require backup from a higher level of management.

Q: “Brittany”, one of my employees, recently said that she feels a fellow team member is mad at her. She then asked if I would observe their interactions and give her my opinion. I suggested that perhaps she should simply ask whether anything is wrong, but she feared this might lead to an argument.

Instead, Brittany said that she will continue to be polite to this co-worker and see if the situation improves. Brittany has a history of issues with several team members, including this one, but I thought they had been resolved. How should I handle this?

A: At this point, I think you should just leave it alone. Since Brittany only “feels” that someone is angry, her wait-and-see strategy is probably a good choice. Given her previous issues, this might actually be a sign of progress.

As the manager of a group with a history of drama, you were wise to sidestep Brittany’s request for intervention and encourage her to handle the matter independently. Employees who act like squabbling children need to recognize when it’s time to grow up.


About The Writer

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

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