ADVICE: Possible Dormat

Sara,

You have lots of experience as a boss, both professionally and in your spare time, so I think you can help with this. I am somewhat new to managing humans and I have somebody who is going through a shitty personal crisis. I really feel for the dude. But his work is suffering: unfocused, lack of attention to detail, showing up late, etc. I was willing to listen to his troubles at first, still am because I am a very sympathetic, nice, amazing human. But I need to figure out how to be kind while still making sure Shit Gets Done. Any words of wisdom for how to handle this without becoming the office asshole who crushed a poor broken man?

– Possible Doormat

Teaim

Dear Doormat,

Managing people takes some getting used to. The hardest part of earning your stripes is dealing with a situation such as the one you’re in, dealing with the situations that make you feel like the “bad guy”. You’re not the bad guy, and trust me on that, but you do have to get used to doing things that your employees might think are shitty. That’s why you are the manager, and not the other way around.

So, the first thing I want you to remember is that as much as you will want to be liked all the time, there will be days when you’ll have to put the hammer down, and someone isn’t going to like it. If you know me well, then you know that I have been fortunate to maintain good relationships with employees throughout the years, and even maintained good friendships. It doesn’t mean that my employees always agreed with me, or that there aren’t any that still carry anger from having been fired. I have always said to them that some days, it’s 100% ok for them to walk out of the building cursing my name. That there will be nights that they’ll leave thinking, “Fuck you, Sara.” or “Why is my boss such a dick?” As much as I try to avoid that from happening, it will, from time to time, and it’s all part of the package. Being in charge is hard, and this just might be your opportunity to start getting comfortable with things that feel uncomfortable.

Secondly, remember this when you question yourself and wonder if the rest of your employees will think you’re the “bad guy”, consider how you would feel if you got to work on time and worked your ass off all day, only to watch a co-worker wander in whenever he fucking wanted and just go through the motions? Wouldn’t that piss you off? (Yes, Sara. It would piss me off.) Not dealing with situations like this right away could be so much worse than being perceived as the bad guy.

Without detail about what type problems your employee is going through, or what your company policy dictates for situations like this, I’ll have to make some assumptions here, but hopefully you’ll get something out of it, enough to help you feel a little more confident carrying out your management responsibilities. Now, if his issue were medical in nature, you would be able to provide the pertinent information about benefits he may be able to take advantage of, say an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or for a qualifying medical condition, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off. My guess is, that if he has a true medical crisis going on, that you’d have already been discussing these things with him. However, many people forget about the EAP, if they have one. The EAP is designed to assist employees in order to get their shit together. The EAP benefits are usually free to the employee, and are confidential. The EAP also stands to benefit the employer by (hopefully) reducing absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced work performance, etc. Of course, not all employers offer a benefit like this. Visit HR and get their input. Make sure you are aware of company policies pertaining to work performance and tardiness, plus the consequences one faces if those behaviors continue. Make sure HR is supportive of your approach. Now, you’re armed with all of the information you need…here’s what I would do.

Sit down with the employee right away. Lay it all out there.

  1. Inform him that this is a verbal warning.
  2. Inform him that this meeting is to address poor work performance and tardiness.
  3. List the unacceptable behaviors he has been demonstrating, and use specific dates and instances.
  4. List the consequences, should said behaviors continue.
  5. Offer him the opportunity to utilize any EAP benefits offered to him, off needed.
  6. Make sure he understands everything you’ve discussed.
  7. Encourage him.
  8. Plan a follow up talk.

As a manager, you’ll quickly find that managing people is not anything like managing projects, production, or caseloads, because, well, because none of those other things are humans. Managing humans can be daunting, because who wants to be the bad guy? No one. (Ok, me. Sometimes.) Part of being a successful manager is keeping your employees motivated, productive, and maintaining an understanding how to get the best performance out of each of them, in turn, they’ll be looking for the same from you. Another part is identifying employees that are no longer motivated or productive. You’ll need to proceed with pointing them in the right direction to get themselves on track, or proceed in the direction of terminating their employment.

The reality is, we live in a society that now thinks everyone should get a participation badge instead of keeping score, and that finishing Kindergarten calls for caps and gowns. That ain’t the way life works. Life can be shit, like a giant flaming bag of shit, and there are always going to be plenty of times that we all need to pull on our big-boy pants and man the fuck up. In the world I live in, it works something like this:

Everyone’s got problems. Some of them are manageable problems, some of them are holy-fucking-shit problems. The similarity between the two, is that you have to deal with your shit. Then, you have to take your ass to work and do a good job. If you can’t, you should look into any resources offered to you that may help you work through your problem. No resources like that offered? Go figure out a different way to get help. Ask someone to help you manage your problems in a way that will allow you to do your job. Still can’t seem to make it to work on time and get your shit done?

Sorry, but we here at Get Shit Done Inc., can only afford to pay employees who actually get their shit done. That’s just the way the exchange works. You do the work, and we pay you money for the work you’ve done.

Whether or not he has cried you a river or given you no insight to his personal problems, your job is to evaluate his performance and the performance of your department against the expectations of your self/employer/company. It has nothing to do with how sorry you feel for him. The world isn’t going to feel sorry for him. The bottom line is this. It is your responsibility to manage this employee. If you don’t manage him, his poor performance becomes your poor performance. It sounds like he needs a little reality check. This is, perhaps, the greatest kindness you can give. Make him accountable for his actions. Work with HR to make sure you are handling the situation within company policy, and let him know that, here in the real world, a participation badge just means you showed up, it doesn’t mean you made the team.

OH MY SHIT. I JUST USED A FUCKING SPORTS ANALOGY IN RESPONSE TO A MANAGERIAL WORKPLACE QUESTION. I EVEN USED THE GODDAMMNED WORD “TEAM”. I SHOULD BE FUCKING FIRED. FOREVER. I SHOULD BE WRAPPED IN MOTIVATIONAL POSTERS, TIED UP WITH PARTICIPATION BADGES, AND SET ON FIRE.

Sara