How to manage problem employees and performance issues

Dealing with performance issues in the workplace can be difficult for employers, but it’s important to look at these issues from two angles. First, is the employer doing everything he or she can to facilitate the employee’s success? And secondly, is the employee doing what is requested of him or her relative to the employer’s stated expectations?

“In some instances, an employer may have to ask, ‘Am I doing all I can to help this employee succeed?’” says Jan Nedin, MBA, MSEd, RCC, senior account manager for LifeSolutions, an employee assistance program (EAP) that is part of the UPMC WorkPartners’ suite of health and productivity solutions and an affiliated company of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. “If so, there are several aspects to look at in terms of employee performance.”

Smart Business spoke with Nedin about how employers can best deal with performance issues.

What is an EAP’s perspective on performance issues?

Employee performance issues are complex. Employee assistance professionals consult with managers at all levels to assess the issues and determine interventions that comply with a company’s HR policies and stand the chance of being effective.

How should managers approach a performance issue?

Start with a few initial questions. Is the reason connected to issues the employer controls? Are job assignments appropriate? Was this person a suitable hire in terms of skill level? Does the employee have a current job description that clearly spells out expectations? If the employee demonstrates waning motivation, has the employer looked at possible reasons for this? Is the employee frustrated by micromanagement or a lack of freedom to be creative? Is the work environment conducive to the employee doing his or her best?

After the manager has examined these contributions to this employee’s success, then review the employee’s performance. Often, it’s both the manager and the employee who may need to make some changes. Successfully managing people is complex due to expectations, personalities and other external factors.

How do you determine how to proceed?

Evaluate an employee’s performance by focusing on: quality of work, quantity of work and behavior in the workplace and with customers. Is a reasonable amount of work being done in a reasonable amount of time? Is the work accurate, timely and appropriate for the position? Does the employee have a professional attitude and behavior? Are there signs of possible personal problems or substance abuse?

How might the manager intervene?

Problems with quantity or quality of work need to be discussed with the employee. If the employee has difficulty meeting expectations, then examine if some things can be adjusted. Sometimes, the employee will have a strength that is not being utilized. Successful management is a dance that requires managers to tune in to their employees to evaluate what works to achieve a win-win outcome.

Performance issues involving attitude or behavior are more complex. While motivating employees is the manager’s job, managers cannot always know what is wrong. Set standards for what is appropriate behavior in the workplace and discuss this with the employee. If the employer is stumped or suspects the employee may have personal issues, consult with an EAP. The manager should focus on performance and leave problem identification and remedy to an EAP counselor/coach.

It’s important to let the employee know you are there to help. Be as specific as you can in delineating what you believe to be the problem in clear and measurable terms. Be just as clear in what you expect the employee to do to solve the problem by providing a timeline for the desired changes and an objective way for them to be measured.

If the employee is complying with directives, follow up with praise. However, if you do not see adequate compliance, talk to HR about next steps and make use of the EAP’s consultants to develop performance management strategies. Ideally, the focus should be on a process that helps the employee return to being a productive member of your work team.

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