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The Boston Globe
Job Doc

Confront problem with performance
quickly, decisively

By Linda Lerner, Globe Correspondent, 12/7/03

Need advice about managing your career or your workplace? The Job Doc can help. Our specialists can answer your questions on topics ranging from career transitions to management issues. E-mail queries to jobdoc@globe.com, or send letters to Job Doc, c/o the Boston Globe, P.O. Box 2378, MA 02107-2378. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

I have a supervisor reporting to me who is very difficult to manage. Although he is excellent at many of his responsibilities, he can be unprofessional with his staff and he also has poor follow-through. I try correcting him and reminding him to follow up but basically things remain the same. This has troubled me for a long time and I don't know what else to do. I work for a company that has a lot of opportunity for growth for a talented guy like him, but he will never get promoted because people know about his faults. I am sick and tired of defending him and trying to cover for him. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with an employee like this?

We often see dealing with a performance problem as a very complex issue. We may also feel paralyzed to address the employee's inappropriate behavior, inadequate results, or poor attitude especially when the individual has some real talent.

Most of us think about the problem but the real challenge is getting the conversation out of our heads. When we avoid addressing the employee directly we end up pushing aside what needs to be said while our frustration with the situation grows.

It does not have to be this way. Problem performance situations can be addressed more directly than most people think. Start by selecting a private place to meet with the employee and arrange to have no interruptions during the discussion. At the meeting follow these five steps:

  • Tell him exactly what he does.
  • Tell him exactly what the impact is of his behavior.
  • Tell him exactly what he needs to do instead.
  • Tell him that you will be following up and when.
  • Ask what he thinks about this, making sure that he understands your message.

It is best to do this soon. The longer you wait the worse it will get for both of you. Give him a written summary of the contents of this initial meeting. Be prepared to spend some time between your meeting and the follow-up sessions demonstrating what you expect and what changes need to occur.

If his performance slips again continue to be supportive but speak to him about it quickly. He needs to know that this time it is for real and that he will be held accountable on an ongoing basis. Document all of your conversations with him. If improvements are not sustained over a reasonable amount of time, there will also be a need to discuss the serious consequences of his lack of follow-through and his poor treatment of his staff.

Keep these meetings short and to the point. Remind yourself that you are his boss and not his therapist. If your clear and focused work with him does not produce the needed results then you might also find it helpful to seek out the assistance of a member of your human resources staff, especially if you are considering terminating his employment.

Mass. law requires a break for meal

I recently started a new job as a telemarketing service representative. This is the same type of work that I was doing in my last job. I am writing because at my former employer we all had two 15-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We also had a one-hour period for lunch. At the company where I work now, we have no breaks and only forty-five minutes for lunch. I work an eight-hour day here just as I did in the other company. My coworkers tell me that they used to have breaks and an employee lounge in order to chat and smoke but that was eliminated several years ago. Isn't a company required to give its employees breaks and also an hour for lunch?

Although many employers do provide time for one or two breaks during the work day in addition to time for lunch, they are not required to do so. The law in Massachusetts states that an employer must provide a thirty-minute meal break during each work shift that lasts more than six hours. This one half-hour meal break is unpaid. In addition, Massachusetts' law does not require employers to provide any rest breaks.

Your current employer is well within the law and does not need to make any changes in its current practices to be in compliance. The Massachusetts Meal Break Law states that violating this law is a criminal offense. There are only a few types of work that are exempt from this law but your work is covered.

The breaks you had before with your former employer were most likely paid breaks and the hour lunch was unpaid. This means that at your new company you are expected to physically be at work for 15 minutes less each day to accommodate the shorter time period for lunch and still be paid for the full eight hours.

Employee lounges or break rooms are not required by law. This type of space used to be considered a necessity when employees were allowed to smoke in the workplace and took their breaks in rooms designated for smokers. Now everyone has to go out of doors to smoke since current law bans smoking at work.

Guidelines on internal transfers

I am the director of housekeeping services for a hotel in Boston. Four months ago I hired a young woman who recently graduated from college to be my assistant manager. I have been training her and devoting a great amount of time to teaching her the ropes. She has done her job exceptionally well. She also speaks Spanish fluently and this has helped our department a lot. I learned recently from my boss that she has been accepted to fill another job in a different area of the hotel. I had no idea that other managers were interviewing her and I am so angry about this that I don't know what to do. She leaves in four days and I am left with no help and no warning. I would quit if I could afford to do it. I feel that I need advice on how to cope with this situation because I don't know why the company would do this to me.

It may surprise you to learn that this kind of misunderstanding can happen even when all of the parties involved have the best intentions. The degree of anger that you are experiencing must be worked out and redirected or it will surely affect your behavior at work, not to mention your personal stress level.

First, do something positive to help the company from repeating this mistake. You can redirect your negative feelings by speaking to your boss now, acknowledging the disruption and the serious problems that this transfer is causing you, while offering suggestions for how to work out the current situation better, such as a longer notice period and an accelerated search for your assistant's replacement.

Second, know that other companies have specific policies to address this personnel issue. Internal transfer policies outline the procedures to be followed when an employee is considered for an opening. These policies often include guidelines on:

  • How long an employee must remain in new a job before applying for or being recruited into another job within the company. Most companies state that the job change cannot occur prior to ''X'' number of months. I have seen as little as six months and as long as a year and a half, depending on the level and the required training.
  • Notifying a manager when an employee is considered for a new job beyond the initial inquiry or interview stage. This avoids upsetting the manager when only an exploratory discussion occurs.
  • Giving notice just as if the employee were resigning to go to a position outside the company, usually a minimum of two weeks.
  • Requiring the current manager to give a reference prior to the offer being finalized.

These steps help reduce the surprise factor and aid in planning for the replacement. It is preferable to distribute or post such a policy for all employees and managers to see.

Linda Lerner coaches executives, managers, and professionals in various fields and consults on human resources best practices to a broad range of businesses. She is principal of Lerner Consulting and can be reached at Linda@Lernerconsulting.com.

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