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North Central Business Journal News

(October 1999 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

     A typical problem faced by employers is that employees only do part of the job for which they were hired.  This problem is growing as it is difficult for employers to hire "stars", and often have to make do with mediocre employees.  There is no guarantee that if the employee is terminated, a new employee would do the job better.  So employers need to better people managers.

    If the problem is lack of ability, a training program can be put in place to teach the employee the particular skill that is lacking.

      But in many instances, the problem appears to be one of "motivation" rather than lack of skill.  In these instances, employers usually tell the employee what they want done, often in general terms.  Then they observe that the task is still not being done. Employers become irritated and confused.  However, employees often do not realize that the task is part of their job, or they do not realize that the task is important.

      Part of the way to avoid the problem of employees doing only part of the job requires that an employer specify in writing the particular tasks to be done as well as specifying their relative importance.  This ensures that the employees are clear about all that the job entails.

      A second way to avoid the problem of employees doing only part of the job is for the employer to keep a written record of when the employee did and did not do a particular task.  This does not need to be a time consuming task for the employer as a chart can be kept on which dates are entered quickly.  This helps the employee to see that the employer notices both the good and the bad of the employee's work, and reduces defensiveness on the part of the erring employee.  It also helps the employer be specific in a discussion of the problem.

      The third tactic to ensure employees are doing the whole job is to have frequent, private problem-solving sessions with the employee.  At these problem-solving sessions, the employer can re-iterate, using the written job description, the tasks that are expected, and indicate in specific detail when those tasks were done and not done.  Instead of chastising the employee, which at best only makes the employer feel better, it is more helpful to ask the employee what suggestions they have for addressing the problem.  This puts the focus on the future rather than past mistakes.  To keep this discussion on the target of being a problem-solving session, the employer can suggest that the employee utilize his/her strengths to compensate for this area of weakness.  The discussion then centers on the strengths the employee has and how those can be used to ensure that the complete task is accomplished.  To conclude this problem-solving session, the decisions are written as a contract with a review date established, including how the employer will know that the tasks are being accomplished. 

      During the contract period, the employer will continue to record in writing the dates when the tasks were and were not accomplished.  The review meeting is simply a time to observe how well the employee has done on reaching his/her goals.  In most instances, the employee can be praised for doing the job effectively.  In a few instances, the termination for cause process can be put in place at this time, as there is ample written evidence that the employee was told what to do, when to do it, and offered the opportunity to demonstrate that he/she could do the job. 

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses.  Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.

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