The e-mail came from a factory foreman who complained about an employee who abuses the system because he “begins work at least a half hour late, and is sometimes going home before his shift is completed.”
The foreman explained that his dilemma is that the employee is “probably the hardest and best worker this company has. He completes all projects presented to him in an above-quality performance. His years of experience are also very beneficial.” The foreman worries that the fellow’s work habits are damaging morale and would like to fire him, but his supervisor worries about losing a top employee if the company fires the worker.
My first reaction was “Don’t let the employee do that!” Who’s in charge? As I’ve said before, managing a values-oriented and ethical workplace does not mean chaos. If there are rules and expectations, everybody must be held to those. Good leaders must command respect and must be able to expect employees to follow the rules. Once starting times and procedures become optional, everybody loses respect for management. Respect has to be at the heart of a good workplace.
The second question is how can this person be a top employee and work less than the required shift? He’s excelling at his job and his value to the company is unquestioned. Don’t we all want to work with this guy? I immediately wonder if the job is designed correctly and if this man’s skills are being maximized. If he excels in less than eight hours, he is being underutilized. The smart leader will find special things for the employee to accomplish to improve the company’s performance. I suspect the employee is not being challenged and would welcome ways to contribute more.
But another important question here is why are eight hours and specific starting times so darned important? This should not become an issue of power for the foreman. He can enforce conformity, but he has to ask himself if he should.
Doing the job well should be the most important objective, not simply filling up time. The other workers are working eight hours and accomplishing less. That strikes me as the real problem, not the top worker’s ability to get the job done well in less than the required time. Figuring out the real problem is the most important skill a leader needs.
The foreman is very concerned about the morale of the rest of the staff because this person arrives late and leaves early and is still the top employee. The foreman and the supervisor need to think about the top employee’s morale. It’s almost certain he knows he’s superior to everyone else and he knows he does more in seven hours than anybody else does in 10. It would be wrong, but he probably thinks his work hours create “justice.” It is leadership’s responsibility to make sure there is equity in the work output.
The most striking thing about this situation is the apparent inability to talk it out. I repeatedly see this inability to get problems out in the open in workplaces.
If it is essential for the top worker to work the normal shift, the foreman should approach him in a positive way. Something like this: “Hey, Harry, we both know you are one heckuva employee. You complete your work on time and you do it well. But everybody doesn’t know that. When you come in late and leave early it looks like you are getting special treatment. We need to stop that, but I need you to be challenged. Let’s explore some ways you can contribute to the company and be happy in your work at the same time.”
That kind of straightforward approach makes the workplace healthier.
Tip for your search: When you agonize over a work issue or wonder how to address someone with a problem, don’t make it so difficult. Talk to the other person honestly and directly. Enhance their self-esteem and then simply rely on honesty.
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