I have an employee who reports to me that just doesn't seem to want to work. She is constantly challenging my authority and complains about the work she does and she doesn't even do most of the work she is supposed to without having to be reminded multiple times. She's been here for many years now and should know how things work. I'm just at a loss as to what to do at this point.
Dear Managing Sucks,
Let’s face it: Being a manager is often just hard. It can be very rewarding but getting to that point means putting in the hard work of patiently dealing with difficult people and situations and learning as you go along. None of us were born great managers. We’ve learned, often the hard way, from a lot of frustration and missteps. I get that your current situation sucks and that’s directly related to this specific employee. But management in general need not suck, so let’s see if I can help guide you to some tools that could help. Hopefully this will not only improve the situation but will also give you the fulfillment and satisfaction that good management skills can bring to your job.
In reading your question my first determination is that this employee is unhappy. This may seem like an obvious and mild assumption but let’s not underestimate what unhappiness in the workplace can do. Unhappy employees disengage and when they do that, they stop performing, stop caring, stop responding. They can become defensive, sometimes combative, sometimes lazy, and generally don’t complete work or complete it poorly. Sounds like your employee? I’m guessing so.
Let’s assume she is unhappy, and this is manifesting as a difficult to manage employee. Getting to the heart of where this unhappiness is coming from could be key to finding a solution. You said she has been in this job for many years, so is she frustrated that she’s not progressing at work? Is she bored with her position, unchallenged, feeling at a dead end? Have others around her come and gone over the years and she’s feeling stuck? Has her role changed, and she no longer feels she has the skills to carry out the work? Maybe it’s nothing to do with work at all. Maybe she’s having family challenges at home. Maybe she’s got health issues she’s facing. Maybe she’s overwhelmed with finances, childcare, eldercare, the list could go on.
The trick is to critique the behavior, not the person. I know this is asking a lot, but you will be far more effective if you can separate the personality from the actions and focus on the latter. Believe it or not, most difficult people are not intending to be difficult, and many aren’t even aware of their behavior. Don’t react to the person themselves.
Look at the behaviors and maybe even make a specific list of the things that are troublesome and need improvement. Then set up a meeting with your employee and try to get at what could be causing these issues. Ask them pointed questions about their job satisfaction, the projects on their plate, their team relationships, and then listen actively to what they say. Be a safe place for them to open up and share what might be causing them some angst. And if they won’t share anything, then it’s time to ramp it up with something like “From my perspective, you seem unhappy in your work lately” or “I’ve noticed you are having a hard time meeting deadlines lately” and then follow it with “is there anything that’s troubling you or anything I can do to help?” If you are sincere in your questions, they will respond. But be willing to ask them if there are things you can do to better manage them and their work and then take those to heart. None of us want to hear that we are the problem, but we can all do better. Perhaps your style of management or communication is challenging for them to understand or grasp. Be willing to hear them out. In essence, open up a dialogue that can help you understand the root causes of their behavior and therefore better manage them.
This can seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming task, but as a manager these are skills you want to be constantly improving, so practice is not a bad thing. Embrace it as an opportunity to not only improve your work life, but also to help a colleague who is clearly struggling. You will both be better for it!
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.