How to help a problem employee become a quality employee


I believe that most of the time, most people at work, do most of what they are supposed to do. They are cooperative, hardworking, and dependable. They take pride in their work, are punctual, and always conscious of quality. Some will even go beyond the call of duty and perform outside their realm of their responsibilities. I call these quality folks low maintenance employees.

There are also those whom we label problem or high maintenance employees. Although a minority, they are known to cause significant, ongoing problems mainly because of their negative attitudes and inappropriate behaviors. This type of employee offers countless reasons why they are not able to get the job done. When asked to do something, many become argumentative, even defiant. They complain a lot, resist change, and point the finger at others when mistakes are made. This type of employee also spends much time badmouthing the company and bashing management.

High maintenance employees are the most difficult and challenging ones to deal with and largely contribute to a manager’s frustration and stress level, so the question is, how can we help high maintenance employees turn themselves in low maintenance ones? It’s not that difficult, we just have to know how!

The first step is to find out and understand the reason(s) why some employees don’t do what they are supposed to do. Managers first need to focus their attention on identifying the reason(s) for such behaviors. Secondly, managers need to work with the employee to eliminate the reason(s). When the root of any problem is identified, then eliminated, the symptoms go away. This process takes time, patience, and the use of effective people management skills.

Let’s take a look at the following example….

Many years ago, I worked as a production supervisor at a manufacturing company. I was lucky to have such a good team, considering I inherited the department following the sudden resignation of my predecessor. Folks in my new department were, for the most part, doing a great job.

I say for the most part because there was 1 employee in particular, whom I quickly identified as having many high maintenance characteristics. This employee was seen as uncooperative, intimidating, and used a lot of profanities when speaking with others. My observations were that he had very little to bring to the department other than criticism and complaints, always without solutions. This employee had developed a reputation of being a “crap disturber” and to me, seemed to be a very unhappy person. This clearly affected the overall morale in the department and I quickly realized that I could not let this weak link continue affecting the rest of the crew.

I had only been at my job for 6 weeks or so and felt somewhat nervous about addressing this issue with the employee but I felt it was my obligation to do so.

The following is a synopsis of what I did;

  • First, I requested the employee’s file from Human Resources, as well as engaging in a candid discussion with the H.R. Manager. My objective was to investigate as to discussions, warnings and/or progressive disciplinary actions, or any letters that may have been given and filed in the past. Any steps that may have been taken by my predecessor and Human Resources are crucial as they form part of the leverage I planned on using during my conversation with the employee.

  • Once I felt I had enough information, I then requested a meeting with the employee in question. My objective was quite simple; I wanted this employee to become a low maintenance employee, a recognized and valued contributor to the success of the department, and stop being a “whining” pain in everybody’s backside. I first and foremost needed to find out “why” this employee behaved in such a caustic manner as I remembered learning early on, that once we focus on identifying and isolating the root of an ailment, and treating it, the symptoms go away.

  • Our discussion lasted nearly an hour and to my surprise, the employee was quite open about the issues that were troubling him. I realized that the only way he knew how to cope was by being difficult and belligerent.

  • The only way I could encourage open communication between us is by using effective communication strategies myself. I remained calm, cool, and collected throughout the meeting, even though at times it felt as if the conversation was going nowhere.

    On several occasions at the tail end of our meeting, the employee mentioned that the previous supervisor didn’t listen to anything he said, she never sat down with him to have a two-way conversation, and never treated him with respect like I had, but rather told him he had a crappy attitude and demanded an immediate change to his behavior, or else…

  • I used open-ended and probing questions to engage him in the discussion as I wanted, and needed to understand his point of view. I focused on listening in a balanced, non-prejudicial way. This helped me realize that his concerns turned out to be valid and together, we agreed at working towards a resolution. Improvements in his demeanour and work ethics began to change and improve. Within a short period of time, this employee was well on his way to becoming a low maintenance employee.

  • As managers and supervisors, we have the right to expect quality performance and appropriate behaviors from our employees. We are empowered to not only communicate those expectations but also to correct unacceptable levels of performance and inappropriate behaviors in our departments. The key to being successful at it, is knowing how to do it!

    OUR EXPERTISE


    Since 1994, the MDG has partnered with organizations that are committed to develop their management and supervisory teams. The company is owned and operated by Robert Côtes, who brings over 30 years of training and employee development experience.

    OUR APPROACH


    The MDG offers real training solutions to businesses whose objective is to develop and maintain positive and functional cultures. The way to achieve this is to train (re-train) and support Leadership teams as to;

    • Standardize communication
    • Operate from the same page using a common language
    • Ensure consistency with respect to management and supervisory “best practices”

    OUR COMMITMENT


    There are no “shortcuts” or “quick fixes” when it comes to training. To achieve “best practices”, an organization should commit to a long term development strategy. That is precisely what the MDG offers; long term partnerships to affect lasting, positive change so as to ensure a return on your training investment.

    HIGH IMPACT DEVELOPMENT


    Our clients reach their development objectives for 3 reasons. First, our learning system is relevant, dealing with today’s management issues, and contains both educational (theory) and training (application) sessions and combined, form a powerful experiential, “learn by doing” system. The second reason for our client’s success is the facilitator’s ability to engage participants and create a supportive, fun yet candid learning environment. The third and last reason is our client’s commitment to a long term development effort, for change is not an overnight process. It takes time.

    Step 1 (Core Program)

    Prerequisite for Steps 2 & 3

    Business Communication an Interpersonal Skills Management Learning System

    Business Communication an Interpersonal Skills Management Learning System teaches powerful communication strategies that are used to approach, manage, and ultimately resolve day-to-day conflicts and “people issues”. The program is made up of three modules, each is a building block targeting specific communication and management skills. Training is conducted in groups of no more than 10 participants.

    Step 2 (Follow-up)

    Prerequisite; Step 1

    Refresher Workshop

    Graduates are invited back to the training room for a full review of the concepts, skills, approaches, and strategies imparted in the core program (step 1). The workshop consists of two – 3.5hr sessions with a maximum of ten (10) participants. The first session focuses on the review part of the effort while session 2 concentrates on activities that give graduates the opportunity to demonstrate the strategies learned in Step 1.

    Step 3 (Optional)

    Prerequisite; Step 1

    Performance Development a Leadership Approach to High Performance

    Most organizations have at their disposal a variety of tools to measure performance levels, compare them to expected ones, and arrive at ways to achieve peak performance from their employees; all in an effort to improve and maintain organizational performance. This paper trail is indispensable and requires consistent application and monitoring in order to be effective and reach the intended objectives.

    What Graduates Are Saying

    (The following comments were taken from actual graduate evaluations)

    Partial Client List