Union creating entitlement attitude

Dear Joan:

I have been a supervisor for almost 18 years in a government agency. I have 12 employees in my unit, some who have been in this organization much longer than me. They don’t want their supervisors correcting them or saying too much to them. They run to their union stewards for just about everything. Most of these people come back from lunch and breaks late, chat while they should be working, reading magazines, turning off their machines to talk to each other and other non-productive behaviors. 

Some of them have screamed at me and to other supervisors and also have cussed at some bosses. I was told to hold a meeting of all of them to give them a service talk and to review the rules and regulations. In other words, I will be telling them what I expect of them.  

My manager has approached me about their poor work performance and he wants me to talk to them and do it without him getting involved. He wants me to have this meeting. Please let me know how I can address this poor work performance to my employees. 


Years ago, unions were created to protect employees from bad management but today, some organizations need protection from bad unions. A union that breeds entitlement kills the goose that laid the golden egg. 

I have little tolerance for disrespectful, immature employees, whose only goal is to figure out how to work less and get away with more. They sneer at their organization, which  provides a salary, with the expectation of getting a fair day’s work in exchange. And it sounds as if their union stewards are encouraging their little game of “Let’s Get Management” instead of encouraging a common goal of “Let’s Serve Our Customers Better.”   

You have every reason to expect your employees to show up on time, complete their work in a timely fashion and be respectful to each other. I agree that you need to address these issues without your manager’s direct involvement but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be supporting you behind the scenes.  

Because your situation has gotten so out of control that the employees are screaming and swearing at supervisors and not listening to anything they say, you will need your manager’s help to turn this around. Because these employees have been there so long, and are entrenched in their entitlement mentality, your manager will need to back you up when you confront someone on his or her inappropriate behavior or performance. If he doesn’t have the stomach to help you stand up to the union, even in blatant cases of insubordination, you have little hope of regaining a proper balance in your workplace.  

Outline a plan to your manager and ask for his commitment. Tell him you will hold the meeting that he requested but then explain that you plan to address poor performance in the future, using your organization’s progressive discipline process. Some simple principles should guide your plan: 

1.      Refuse to be intimidated by long-term employees and step up to your responsibilities to manage fairly and firmly. The good employees in your unit are waiting for you to be a leader and take charge of this situation. 

2.      Confront inappropriate behavior and performance immediately and use first-hand examples to explain why this behavior will not be tolerated. Ask the employee to come up with an action plan to change.  

3.      As long as you are consistent with all employees and have specific, documented examples and observations, his or her union steward will not be able to protect the person from appropriate consequences and even termination. They will try to make you back off but don’t give up. Consistent, fair pressure to perform minimum standards is the only way to regain a balance of power. 

4.      Work hard to praise the good performers, give them the new, interesting projects and reward their good efforts informally and formally. 

I can understand why your manager wants you to have a meeting to re-establish expectations. However, I doubt it will have much positive affect, other than to re-calibrate expectations and give everyone fair warning that they will be held accountable in the future. Some of these employees probably feel bulletproof, since it appears that you have done little to hold them accountable up to now.  

It’s time to take your organization back. Following your meeting, identify the worst two offenders and call each one into a private area and tell them specifically what you expect of them. Give them examples and spell out the changes you’d like to see. Schedule a follow up meeting in a week or two to review progress. Don’t let up. Keep the pressure on. With appropriate consequences and rewards your workplace should begin to get back in balance. But be forewarned--a long-term change across your agency will involve a commitment from your entire management team to form a plan and stick to it. Your good employees will thank you for it.

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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