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The Problem Employee

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Before you deal with a problem employee, it is best to have a clear and concise Policies and Procedures manual. If you don’t have a manual, create one. It can be very simple and held together with a staple. Don’t delay. Some companies call their manual a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) booklet. Your company Policies and Procedures manual is a list of expectations between you and those who are employed by you. When an employee is hired, his first duty should be to read the manual. Then he should sign a statement that he read the manual. That agreement goes into his personnel file and he keeps a copy of the manual.

Be very clear about how an employee would be fired. There should be a standard process providing the employee a chance to be heard. Your responsibility to your employees must include your written feedback i.e., constructive criticism and how you will support improvement. The best form of documented feedback from employer to employee is the performance evaluation.

As an employer, you need to address problems as soon as you are made aware of them. It’s not fair to allow negative behavior to continue. Your reaction must be calm and consistent with all employees. If you are a supervisor, you can discuss the problem employee with someone in the personnel office—if you have one—or with another supervisor. Make a plan and set an appointment to speak privately with the employee. No matter how busy you are, don’t put it off. It is wise to plan the meeting when you and the employee are not angry or defensive.

The most effective method is to meet with the employee and explain the specific undesirable behavior. Talk about the implications and possible consequences of the issue. Offer support – both instructional and emotional – to help the employee. Invite the employee to explain, from his or her perspective. Then listen.

Ask questions carefully about the possibility of a stressful situation in the employee’s personal life. Offer resources to coach and support the employee. Ask for feedback on your management techniques and find out how you can be more helpful. Assure the employee that he is valuable to the organization. Your goal is to see him succeed, not to punish or embarrass him. Stress that you measure your success by the success of your subordinates. Set a specific time – say a week or two – when both of you will meet again to revisit the issues.

If the employee denies his or her responsibility for the problem, you will need to let him know that you will investigate the issue. One way or the other, be clear on the timeline you have given for the negative behavior to stop. Inform the employee that there needs to be continued improvement. The two of you should agree on simple objectives for the employee that can be measured by your next meeting. At the next meeting, if it is fairly obvious that no improvement has been made, you will need to begin probationary warnings. Bring a memo to the meeting, referring to the specific policy and ask the employee to sign a copy of the written probationary warning. He can write his comments on the memo. Be specific on the non-compliance behavior.

When you consider losing a team member you have trained, searching for a new employee and the resulting decline in morale, you will realize the true cost of termination. By working with your employee, you will create trust, which will spur him or her on to work harder for you. Both you and your staff should work together to realize your highest potential of team self-esteem.


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