Poor work habits can wreck morale

Even good employees may develop a poor work habit that can undermine the morale or effectiveness of the work unit.

If a productive employee begins to do things like leave early, spends excessive work time on personal phone calls or frequently takes long lunch hours, the managers may feel stymied by a delicate situation. The employee may feel he is doing a good job, so he deserves extra privileges.

How can the problem be corrected without damaging the employee's willingness to perform?

Some managers choose to avoid dealing with the poor work habit in the hope it will disappear. It seldom does. What's worse, co-corkers may resent the boss's failure to act and begin to develop poor work habits of their own.

Poor work habits are particularly hard to handle because the manager must deal with behavior rather than employee performance. And problems of attitude and behavior are very personal and hard to change.

Managers must take actions that will motivate the employee to WANT to change his behavior. They can't risk using an authoritative approach that will change the individual into a resentful employee who will get even by doing the bare minimum.

Sound tricky? Not necessarily. There are a few common sense steps that can be used to handle situations like this. Development Dimensions, International, Pittsburgh, Pa., suggests using a six-step approach in this training course called Interactions Management.

Describe in detail the poor work habit you have observed. Whenever possible, the manager should have personally observed the behavior he wants to correct. Relying on hearsay or co-workers complaints can be unreliable and unfair.

It's extremely important to describe the behavior precisely. "You haven't been pulling your weight around here," is a vague accusation likely to make the employee bristle.

Instead, I've noticed that you have taken an extra 20 minutes for lunch three times in the last two weeks," is specific and irrefutable

Indicate why it concerns you. Sometimes an employee will abuse the work rules because he feels unappreciated and unrewarded. He begins to reward himself by rationalizing, "Why shouldn't I be able to do this? After all, I get my work done." He fails to see how his behavior is affecting others.

It's essential that the manager explain why this is a problem. The employee may feel picked on unless the boss clearly describes the effect of the poor work habit on the morale of co-workers, safety or work habits of others.

Ask for reasons and listen openly to the explanation. The employee should be given an opportunity to give reasons for his behavior. Defenses may be high, so it's important to listen empathetically and to not pass judgment on his reasons.

Indicate that the situation must be changed and ask for ideas for solving the problem. The employee will be more committed to ideas he generates himself. He knows why he's developed a bad habit and what it will take for him to correct it.

The manager should avoid judging the quality of these ideas and support any ideas that are within company policy.

Only a valid reason, such as a serious illness in the family, would justify letting a poor work habit continue temporarily.

Discuss each idea and offer your help. It's important to explore exactly how a solution will solve the problem. Examining the pros and cons of each idea may reveal that a solution is impractical or may have negative ramifications.

You might say, "Let's look at how this solution could help the situation and the problems that would be involved." Again, it's important that the employee judge for himself.

Agree on specific action to be taken and set a specific follow-up date. Misunderstandings can be minimized if the managers says, "Just to be sure we're both clear, let's review what you have (we both have) agreed to do."

Finally, when a follow-up meeting is scheduled to see how the solution is working, the employee knows the manager is serious about correcting the matter.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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