Friday, February 5, 2016

Domestic Team Slackers: Nature or Nurture?

Having two colleagues approach me within just one short week for advice on the very same topic, I thought it worthwhile for The Citizen to revisit the topic of workplace slacking, one of those tricky management subjects that looks very simple on the outside - yet peel away the organic, free-range onion just a bit and then suddenly...  not so.

Receiving an article from one of them today, "Don't let slackers bring your team down" by Scott Ball, I congratulated my friend on taking the initiative to at least Google the issue and try to find a solution, even more so because he isn't the Estate Manager, yet of co-worker status and he must both co-work and co-exist peacefully within this environment, no doubt as millions of other workers across all industries are experiencing daily - at least to some degree - and at least within their own minds of what slacking really is, or isn't.

Although the article is well-meaning, I gently suggested it's solutions are a bit too simpleton to really hit the nail and I encouraged him to dig deeper than what is suggested there, to not just look at the lazy behavior of his nemesis co-worker, yet to try and place himself in this person's shoes and also look carefully at what may have brought about the end result. It may possibly be in the worker's own nature to be a lazy bum, yet it also may be - and I think this is more likely - the result of a dysfunctional nurtured environment, one which throws fertilizer not only on slacking, yet all sorts of bizarre behaviors as the worker attempts to create a balance of sorts between what he feels is fair, and the unfair treatment - even if it's only in his mind - perceived to be thrust upon him.  Regardless of where on the nature/nurture spectrum these incidents are falling, I believe, based on what he has reported, the issue will not be as simple as pointing the damning finger at his co-worker, because if that were the case... wouldn't it have already been resolved, long ago?

Anywho, here's the four suggestions in the article now copied/pasted below in bold print, which I have added my own humble comments to what may really be going on within a domestic staff team where one or more staff members isn't pulling weight - that either of their own, or the team's:

So take a tough stance with slackers – even if you think a performance improvement plan (PIP) can turn them around:
PIPs are a sure sign that performance hasn't been measured accurately, and often enough, and it's usually too little, too late.  If his manager is having daily interactions and observations, along with monthly sit-down 1-on-1 meetings with each domestic staff member to discuss specific expectations and if the member is completing them according to agreed-upon team standards and stated team values, his performance should not have devolved to the point where an "improvement plan" is now needed.  Instead, I propose, the estate owner needs to "take a tough stance" with the Estate Manager, not the worker in question, and make known that performance management for all team members is a continuous, on-going operation and daily function of the Estate Manager - not an afterthought which is allowed to be broken and then mopped up later with a dirty PIP rag.

1. Explain that missed deadlines will not be tolerated. They’re expected to complete work on schedule just like everyone else.
I've found that on domestic staffs there are often no deadlines, because there are often no job descriptions.  How can you measure something that you have not defined in the first place?  Is there also an employee handbook which outlines rules of behaviors, standards, and expectations of performance - from everyone on staff? If not, can you really blame the "slacker" for coming up with his own rules of behavior? 

2. Set daily, weekly and/or monthly goals. Follow up with them regularly to make sure they’re getting the message.
Follow-up is daily, for everyone, including the star performers and others too. A recent management fad was for managers to bestow all of their attention on the best and send everyone else into a corner to sit quietly, yet that is nothing short of terribly misguided, let's just say politely, horse poopy.  It's no secret that children who are neglected in a home will be the ones who act out and become problems for society, because there's a real human need to be social and have attention.  Same for workplaces, after people grow up and find themselves in the same room, walking and talking with other human beings.  The Estate Manager needs to start managing and setting goals with... everyone. Goals should not be some sort of grade school punishment - they are part of how all adults within a workplace are held accountable to agreed-upon standards, and how paychecks are earned. Those domestic workers who complain that being held accountable for meeting specific, demonstrated goals to follow is being "mico-managed" may possess certain technical skills for a work environment, yet being responsible to a team effort and working alongside others fairly will not be one of them.

3. Put the slacker on probation. A worthwhile employee will improve her performance if she knows her job’s on the line.
Sounds like action, but it's not.  If a job description has been clearly written and agreed to, and an employee handbook which has been reviewed and approved by your family office attorney, read, explained, fully understood, and agreed to in advance by the worker - and the Estate Manager is honestly managing the performance of the staff on a daily basis instead of just smiling, saying hello, and passing out donuts in the morning, and the issue has been previously agreed to with the worker as being a noted problem, then it's time to move directly into a one-week suspension without pay. Probation is a childish, empty threat that no one believes, nor should they. 

4. If you don’t see prompt improvement, fire him. Answer this question honestly: “Will this person respond to a swift kick in the rear end of am I just wasting my time?” Then follow your gut response.
Agreed, but only if #3 has been fully realized first, and the Estate Manager has been honestly managing the staff each and every day for performance, and has the full authority and support of the principals to actually manage staff - which is often not the case on domestic staffs.  And unless it's a extreme matter of workplace theft or workplace violence, there should be the time taken to fire a warning shot over the bow,  including the above mentioned discipline, one which leaves no room for doubt in the worker's mind that performance expected from them has failed and is expected to turn around immediately, same-day, and without further nonsense. 

Is your estate suffering from slackers - and the morale problems they cause for the others who are tired of the inequities and getting ready to catch another bus ?  If yes, are you certain the issue is of a natural constitution from within the individual worker themselves - or has the problem been nurtured from within the estate walls?  And can it be reversed through beginning to manage the staff effectively and without excuses?  And would the Estate Manager have the nurturing support and granted authority from the principals to actually manage the team and its efforts?  Only after an honest look of the relationships, support, and structures, can an effective remedy be considered. 
To do otherwise and to wing it, hoping things somehow get better on their own instead of actually solving the problem - is just more slacking itself.

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