Dealing with a unresponsive employee

Q. How do you respond to an employee who you supervise who is unresponsive and ill-mannered, after many attempts to correct the issues?

T. K, Antioch, CA

A. The short answer would seem to be: “You fire the employee.” The issue is no longer about the behavior; it’s about the refusal to correct a behavior. As the supervisor, it’s your job to make sure each employee knows the expectations your company has for behavior, and it’s the employees’ responsibility to meet them. Otherwise, it can negatively affect morale when one employee is perceived to be exempt from having to comply with company standards.

Before doing anything so drastic as firing an employee, you need to let the employee know both verbally and, better yet, in writing what these expectations are and specifically what the employee is doing that isn’t consistent with those expectations. And that may be the crux of the matter for you: Are you, in fact, being explicit with the employee? What form have your attempts to correct the issue taken? If you haven’t really been clear the employee may not have “heard” you. If you beat around the bush, trying to be “polite,” your message could be ambiguous.

Your goal is to correct the behavior and build a better work relationship, not embarrass the employee. The conversation should take place in private, unless the particulars require that a third person be present to ensure that there is no misunderstanding later of what was said in the meeting.
A successful critique culminates with two important steps: asking if the employee understands the critique, and then getting his buy-in to the resolution. “John, do you understand that the behaviors I’ve just described are problems that need to be remedied?” Once he acknowledges that he’s not meeting company expectations, then you can ask how he will resolve the problem, or share your solution with him. This resolution becomes your action plan, and the benchmark to which he will be held accountable. Conclude by getting his buy-in: “Do you agree? Are you willing to make an effort to do this?” If he doesn’t recognize the problem or agree to correct it, then he’s choosing door #2…the exit.

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