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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #104
(December 8, 2020)

How to Handle Teammates Who Don't Pull Their Own Weight ...

When I was 16, I landed my first 'real' job. It was a part-time job while I was attending high school and I was excited to be earning some spending money. As you can appreciate, my first days at work were a bit of a mystery because I really didn't know what to do or when to do it. This meant a lot of time was spent standing around waiting to be told what to do next. It was during one of these "standing around" episodes that I heard the words that have forever defined how I approach work:

"Even if you have nothing to do, there's always something you can do."

My boss may have intended these words to be helpful mentoring advice or—more likely—these words came from a (somewhat) frustrated supervisor who was expecting someone (me) to take some initiative. Regardless, this defining moment left an indelible imprint on what I have come to know as "work ethic."

Today I'm going to look at work ethic within a team environment. Or, more accurately stated, how to address the lack of work ethic when teammates aren't pulling their own weight.

When an individual works within a team environment there is a unique 'dependency' relationship that may not be stated—and may not be obvious to everyone—but is there nonetheless. No one truly operates in a silo. These dependencies can be as simple as work that can't be started until other team members complete theirs, to more complex dependency situations where the total work throughput is dependent upon the aggregate of every team member's efforts. People with good work ethic take this dependency very seriously—a person with good work ethic feels guilty when he/she falls short on his job performance. However, not everyone operates with this same set of values.

As a management consultant, I've had the opportunity to work with hundreds of managers within many diverse industries and I find it interesting that over 90% of the managers I speak with report that they have at least one person who doesn't do his or her share of the work. Perhaps it has to do with not showing up on time or leaving early; perhaps it's the overall quality or quantity of work performed; perhaps it's someone who is constantly in need of correction and improvement. Regardless, when people take their jobs less seriously than everyone else, or seem not to care, it impacts every other team member.

As I've stated in the past, "Doing nothing is doing SOMETHING to performance." Bad habits, like good habits, become ingrained in an employee's workplace behavior—it is up to each of us, as team managers, to address this critical (especially now) issue. The rest of the team is watching, and if you're not acting, you're condoning. The rest of the team, who are probably picking up the slack, can become demoralized because they are working hard and adding value while the low work ethic employee is not.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today) pay particular attention to any excuses you receive (typically at the very moment when an assignment, task, or project is due) such as "I didn't have time to deal with that." or "I just have too many other things I'm juggling right now." or "There were too many distractions around me so I wasn't able to focus on that." or "I was never trained how to do that." These examples (and many others) are your triggers to act precipitously. Here are a few HVAs to help you overcome this challenge:

  • Know the Nemesis: From my experience, I'm going to suggest that most of these employees truly believe it's not their fault—it's yours. Yes, you are the problem; or the workplace is the problem; or the rest of the team is the problem; or the systems/tools/process are the problem ... anything other than he or she being the culprit. The first step is to work with the employee to discover the source of their unhappiness and low morale. If you decide that some of the employee's concerns are legitimate, acknowledge this and commit to working on a resolution. However, when you discover that many of the employees views are more 'attitudinal' in nature, you're going to need to find a way for the employee to own the responsibility for their subsequent actions and reactions. My favorite 'back-pocket-question' to pull out at this point is to simply ask the employee, "In light of what you've learned through this situation, what is your plan to overcome this obstacle in the future?" With that question I'm placing the onus back on him or her to come up with a solution. [Note: You may find that your organization did an inadequate job of screening out a potentially 'toxic' employee with a deep-seated bad attitude. If you've done your best, and the employee isn't willing to change, you can responsibly, ethically, and legally help the employee move on to their next employment opportunity (what I refer to as "re-careering").]
  • Stop Saying "That's OK": When low work ethic employees start making excuses, the last thing you should say is, "Oh, that's OK" because consistent excuses for non-deliverables are not acceptable. "That's OK" is an easy phrase to blurt out as a natural empathetic response, but what you're really conveying is that it's completely acceptable to make excuses for misaligned behavior. Is that really what you want these employees—and your team—to think? Instead, describe in detail exactly how what the employee did (or didn't do) impacted you, the team, and the company as a whole: "Tim, I was really counting on you to have the monthly analysis finished before this morning's meeting. Since it's not done, the rest of the team is really going to have to scramble to pull those numbers together in time for the presentation." When low work ethic employees realize that their non-deliverable is impacting the entire team, they're much more likely to pull it together next time.
  • Pushback from Your Feedback: Employees with low work ethic bring with them a great deal of experience in dealing with feedback that confronts their behavior. They've probably been hearing this type of feedback all the way through school and previous jobs they've had so they are ready for you. They will be able to debate virtually anything, because no matter what you tell them, they're going to deny it and find some excuse for it. To combat this, you'll have to anticipate the debate, but don't fall into their trap—don't start defending every detail of your position. When they push back, tell them it's not a debate—use specific examples of the misaligned behaviors, as well as the impact these behaviors are having on the team, with your expressed intention to use the time together constructively to have them figure out a way to overcome the obstacles in the future. Not that I want to make this a compliance-driven conversation, but you are the boss and you need to have employee behaviors aligned with the desired outcomes.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Don't give to get. Give to inspire others to give."

— Simon Sinek —