I recently became the director of a division within our company. One of my directs is managing an employee about whom we received unsolicited negative feedback about a recurrent work performance issue. 

The feedback we received essentially amounted to work-avoidance behavior. The employee has been counseled about this same behavior several times in the past and has seen his career plateau as a result. At times, he has been given documented "last warnings" about such behavior. However, through the course of normal managerial turnover, the employee is working with his third manager over an 8 year period and has been with the current manager for 3 years, during which he has largely been working problem-free. Since each new manager chose to give the employee a "fresh start" of sorts, his behavior was never seen as serious enough to rise to the level mandating termination. But why issue warnings if you're not going to follow them?

So, aside from the fact that we've mishandled this situation, here are three questions:

1. Is there a duration of time after which you would consider a "last warning" to have expired if the employee had worked problem-free during that interval? For example, if you give an employee a "last warning" and then that employee becomes a stellar performer for 10 years after which s/he repeats that behavior, would you honor your "last warning?" 

2. When do recurrent, lower level transgressions add up to serious misconduct? It seems to me that if the behavior is frequent enough, the choice is obvious. The problem we're having is that this behaviior doesn't quite meet that "obvious" threshold and we have different opinions about how to manage it. Ultimately, I would like a uniform strategy but I'm not sure how to manage it myself.

3. What would you do now?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

shellandflame's picture

What this sounds like it a text book example of malingering.  This is a seldom used charge in the US Military to describe someone who always finds a way to avoid work.  Whenever there is a field exercise, they have to meet with the chaplain/ legal affairs.  If there's a tough patrol coming up, they are at sick call.  There isn't a hard and fast rule as to what specifically makes up malingering; it's one of those things where you'll know it when you see it.  I did actually separate a soldier for this.  They continually missed hard assignments to go to the clinic for what amounted to a hangnail or the sniffles.

The important thing is to document all these times the employee avoided work and counsel them about it.  Lay out they haven't completed X number assignments that should have been theirs over Y months.  If this doesn't improve, it will require action by the company, up to and including termination.  Meet with them the following period and review if the number has changed.  If they don't show improvement, work with HR on what the appropriate response would be.

It's important to address this not only for the employee but for the team.  If the rest of the group sees Employee X doesn't have to do their share of the work, it will drag down morale.  Ensuring this employee is held accountable, even if others don't see the actions directly, will keep this from becoming a large issue.




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