Do you have employees who are poor performers or who don’t get along with others who have been in your organization for too long? Why?
There is no reason why an employer should continue to tolerate employees who continually produce substandard work, exhibit unsatisfactory attendance, or who behave badly as a general rule. Yet, most employers have at least a few of these employees. The sad fact is that employers have no one to blame but themselves. Even in the public sector, where employees are entitled to “due process” before they are fired or demoted, it is very do-able to address the performance and behavior issues and terminate an unproductive or badly behaved employee.
The issue for most organizations is co-dependent managers, who would rather be liked than to hold employees accountable. Another word for it is “enabling”. Enabling is behavior that insidiously encourages the “bad” employee to continue being bad. It’s the same dynamic between loved ones and an addict, which prevents the addict from addressing her addiction –like allowing drug use in your home or giving the alcoholic money for rent because she used the rent money to buy booze. If you are “walking on eggshells” around an employee in your organization and avoiding a necessary conversation about unmet expectations, chances are, you are part of an enabling dynamic.
Enabling is behavior that prevents or interferes with holding the employee accountable to acquire new competencies. It keeps her stuck in her unproductive performance and poor behavior. Enabling keeps the employee believing she has no power or control over her life events, her work, and her self-efficacy. The result is that the manager becomes complicit in reinforcing old or mal-adaptive behavior such as procrastination or passivity by not expecting more. In short, a co-dependent manager is silently communicating that the “bad” employee is not capable of changing and is not capable of taking responsibility for her performance or her actions.
What does this look like? Looking the other way when the employee mistreats a customer or co-worker. Talking yourself out of addressing an issue as you pretend “it isn’t that bad”. Giving the employee adequate performance reviews, so you don’t have to justify your observations of inadequate performance.
By avoiding any negative impact to herself, the manager who enables a “bad” employee is forgetting her duty to the organization that relies on productivity to succeed and to the rest of the employees who are meeting company expectations.
Why would a manager allow an employee to continually fail? Simple. The reaction the manager will get from an underperformer when addressing work issues is not going to be pleasant. Like the addict or alcoholic, the enabled employee will most likely have an emotional outburst that deflects the attention away from herself as she points the finger at others, including at the manager. Not a comfortable place to be. In short, it’s just easier to tolerate the substandard employee and hope it doesn’t get any worse than it already is.
The healthier way of dealing with the substandard employee is to expect more of her by empowering her. But this takes guts, an acknowledgment that it’s your job as a manager to do this, and a belief that it is better to respected than to be liked.
Empowering is behavior that expects the employee to acquire new competencies for better performance. It increases the employee’s sense of control or power over a situation, and encourages the learning of new coping abilities to replace maladaptive behavior.
What does empowering look like? Good old-fashioned management: 1)Talk to the employee about what you are experiencing, giving her a chance to explain; 2) Restate your expectation for what acceptable work product or behavior looks like; 3) Offer or require training if appropriate for the issue at hand; 4) If applicable to the situation, ask the employee for options for how she can do things differently to achieve the results you expect; 4) Follow up and follow through with the employee to make sure the necessary changes are taking place; 5) If the necessary changes do not occur, start summarizing your conversations about performance or behavior with the employee in writing, and escalate the formality of the written summaries from a warning to reprimands to a letter of suspension or termination as warranted and according to your company policy.
My best advice: If you think you might have enabling tendencies, don’t seek a promotion to a management position.