Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When bad employees go bad...

The following landed in my feed reader today from Kris Dunn's HR Capitalist blog. In this post he details an occasion when an employee at a previous company took it to the absolute extremes to land a couple of extra days off. From the post:

Human nature exists, and HR pros get to the see the downside in employee relations issues that involve anger, ambition, lust, lies, etc. But faking funeral programs to get a couple of extra days off? That's taking your game to the next level.

This is a pretty remarkable story and it makes you wonder about the very nature of people. It also reads like a pretty damning indictment of employees generally. When you get those real ball-breaking bosses (or HR people) who claim that every aspect of an employees work life must be monitored (think banning websites, monitoring email usage, micro-managing to targets etc) this is what they base their defences on. They believe that if you give an employee a proverbial inch they'll take a mile. If you let them on Facebook then they'll do nothing but that all day and productivity will plummet. If you don't require a doctor's note for illness then all of a sudden people will be off to the quacks every week like clockwork. If you let them decide their own schedule then they'll slack off, only work when they absolutely can't avoid it and will happily see your profits drop for their own self interest.

My issue with this take on 'management' and 'employee relations' is that in every way shape and form it's complete crap. The employee skiving off to go to a 'funeral' every couple of month is clearly not the right person to employ. Firing him was the right way to go. But does no one ask why it got to that position? How on earth did it get to a point where he was so unhappy in his job that he needed to fake family deaths to avoid another 8 hours of it once a month? Why did no-one notice that this guy was seriously miserable and demotivated before? How was his regular absenteeism the first warning sign?

Now I'm probably getting a bit too much into the specifics of this one case. For all I know the organisation had been trying for ages to get him engaged and in reality he was just a total jerk. So let's talk in more general terms.

As I've said numerous times, employee engagement should be the number one priority issue for HR and management. If your staff hate you, your company and their jobs, you should be fired immediately. It's no use blaming the employees, or the economic environment, or the bad weather. The buck stops with you. It is your job to get those guys engaged and get them flying. If you can't do it because they're a miserable and belligerent so-and-so then the best plan is to get rid of them (I'll not mention that perhaps you should be fired for hiring the wrong person in the first place, that is a rant for another day). Fire them quickly and fairly and move on. If however they could, would and should be engaged, happy and productive but for your dumb policies/poor working environment/lack of training/dearth of management capabilities/general ignorance/crappy attitude/unrealistic targets/badly planned business (delete as appropriate) then it's your ass on the line, to quote my American friends from the telly.

If you think this is massively unfair and miss the days when you could just shout at people and they'd do exactly what you said for the length of time you specified, then tough. Think this is all wishy-washy liberal nonsense and that these people who abuse your good nature (i.e. the fact you gave them a job in the first place) are just unreasonable swine? Read this.

When it comes down to it, the future of business is predicated on employees not consumers. I will rant on and on about customer experience, making sure you're telling the right story, being remarkable and so on. But if you do all of that yet still treat your employees like children then you are in for a rough ride. Be as remarkable to your employees as you are to your customers though (in fact even more remarkable) and you will see your successes grow exponentially. Happy people are productive people. Productive people who keep getting happier are your superstars.

So next time someone seems to be disengaged address the root cause, not the individual. If you're hiring the right people in the first place there is nothing to stop every single one of them becoming a superstar employee for you. Nothing that is, except you.


Anonymous said...


James said...

Thanks anonymous, glad my ranting struck a chord with you! If you enjoyed this I reckon you'll have a pretty good rant about the topic in you, I'd love to hear it!