Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Problem employees and how not to treat them

I did an incredibly insensitive thing.

I have a problem employee. She has been a problem for me for a number of years, but I have only recently been in a position to do something about her. When I took over managing my branch last May I sat down with her and reviewed her file. Together we identified a couple areas she needed to grow in, and a couple things our last manager wrote her up for that were unfair. We had a big discussion about everything and talked about my expectations for her as my employee, and her expectations for me as her manager, and we left the meeting with a refreshed perspective on each other and our circumstances. We understood one another and really aired our differences. It was cathartic, in the way that throwing up or screaming your brains out can be cathartic.

That was nearly one year ago. Over the course of the past year her attitude and behaviour has gotten consistently worse, so that she is now back to being the problem she had been previously. I have asked her if there is an issue I can address for her, have given her so many opportunities to let me know if I am failing her or contributing to an environment where she cannot succeed, and each time she breaks down into tears and either admits that it is all her fault, or tells me that others are sabotaging her. I hate crying. I hate doing it, I hate it when others do it. I am not comfortable with it. I understand the necessity for it, and I understand crying out of frustration but I have very little patience for it when I am trying to go about my business at work. It feels manipulative when my employees cry in such situations; it also feels useless to me, energy wasted on an action that won't help in the current circumstance.

I have done my level best to help her and guide her, and finally concluded that I am doing all the work. So I have another talk with her, another very serious talk in which I explain that her negativity and attitude are unacceptable, and that I don't see the improvement we discussed last year. I have put her on final notice, and any display of poor attitude or poor performance on her part will result in the termination of her employment.

Meanwhile, my branch is bringing more work in; one of the jobs we will acquire soon demands that we assign a full-time operator to perform scanning duties. Instead of hiring a new employee, I decided to offer the work to our existing teams; each year their work volume decreases to such an extent that I am forced to cut hours. So I offer them this additional work in the hopes that they can re-coup some of the losses they experienced earlier in the year when I cut their hours. Everyone jumped at the opportunity, included my problem employee. Tanya and I interviewed everyone and picked the best candidates among the group to train for the new job, and chose to train everyone else who applied as back-up staff, so that everyone gets a chance to learn new skills and challenge themselves. I had decided that I wasn't going to offer the same opportunity to The Problem, because I want her to focus on changing her behaviour. It would also set a bad precedent if I have to fire her and she applies for unemployment, wherein the fact that I gave her an opportunity for growth after putting her on notice will work against me in an unemployment hearing.

So I remove her application from the stack of trainees, and plan to speak with her to explain the situation. I get busy, as often happens towards the middle of the month. She has a scheduled vacation and I don't see her for a couple days. Yesterday, Tanya and I announce our decision to the staff and call out the names of the ladies who will be trained. The Problem was, of course, not on that list. Afterward, she comes into my office to ask me if there is a reason why her name was not called out.

Fuck. I forgot to talk to her before making the announcement to everyone, so she found out when everyone else did.

I feel badly about this. It is certainly not the end of the world, and definitely not the worst mistake I've ever made as a manager, but I feel like I didn't do the right thing by her, like I owed her (or anyone in her position) the courtesy of an explanation prior to a big announcement. Not telling her ahead of time was something our last manager would have done, because she enjoyed holding that sort of power over people. It makes me feel bad that I have behaved in a way our last manager did, because she was an awful person. Certainly, my reasons were not the same: I didn't do it to hurt the other person, but it was careless of me. I am frustrated with myself for not being better organized, for not being more focused on important details like that. I apologized, and acknowledged that I owed her more than what I gave her, and she graciously forgave me and agreed with my reasons for my decision, but I still feel like a shit.


Nick McCormick said...

The important thing is that you recognized that you made a mistake (as opposed to most who are completely oblivious), admitted it, apologized for it, and will try to avoid repeating it.

Your team is lucky to have you as a manager.

Jade said...

Hi Nick. I appreciate the encouragement, and I think you're right. I'll definitely work not to repeat *that* mistake. I really hate being insensitive on accident! :)

Crystal said...

Sweetie, cut yourself some slack ... at least you were honest enough to admit the mistake to The Problem Employee. That's more than many bosses would do.

Speaking as an employee, there is nothing worse than a boss who lies ... I once was laid off because the idiot I was working for didn't like strong women. I knew this when I transferred to his department, so it wasn't much of a surprise when the layoffs hit, but the fact that he lied to me about the reason for the layoff? That was worse than getting canned.

Honey, you were honest and straightforward with her ... that's all anyone can ask. ;)

Oh ...and I've been meaning to ask if I'm still your "forum Mom"? :D

Jade said...

Hi Crystal! Thanks for the comment, I appreciate what you say.

And of *course* you're still my forum Mom! You give me the very best feedback and uplifting words. :)

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