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December 16, 2017

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'Tough love' philosophy makes employees take responsibility

Does your workplace have a "tough love" philosophy? Are employees treated like adults, who are expected to meet expectations, or do some people seem to push the rules and get away with murder? Does your workplace tolerate behaviors that is shouldn’t accept? Do some employees act as if they are entitled to their jobs, regardless of how poorly they perform?

Here's a case study for you. What would you do if you were Jason's manager?

Jason's performance began to slip right around the time he started dating his new girlfriend. He was late several times a week, sometimes by as much as forty-five minutes. He made frequent personal calls during his workday and seemed distracted. His manager spoke to him several times about these behaviors and each time he improved, only to slip back into old behaviors a few weeks later. When his manager started to get customer and co-worker complaints about Jason's performance, he knew he had to do something more. He decided to take disciplinary action. He gave him a verbal warning and, when that didn't work, he issued a written warning that indicated Jason could lose his job if he didn't improve. Jason's manager didn't want to lose him because Jason generally did a good job and qualified employees with his skills are hard to find. In addition, other employees are complaining that they are overworked, and without Jason, the situation will only get worse. When the manager spoke to him, Jason admitted that he had been "pushing it" and said he'd improve. Jason said he liked his job and enjoyed working at the company but, in spite of his promises, he continued to exhibit "roller-coaster" behavior.

Assuming that you have the latitude to do any of the following, what do you do?

A. Keep on meeting with Jason and hope that he improves.

B. Fire him and reassign his work until you can find a replacement.

C. Suspend him for three days without pay, to teach him a lesson and show him you're serious.

D. Give him a "decision day" off, with pay, to decide if he really wants his job. And if so, he is expected to return the following day with a written action plan.

Any of the above answers might work, but I like "D" the best, because it puts the responsibility for fixing the problem where it belongs-- on the employee. It's a "tough love" approach.

Let's examine the other choices more closely. In choice "A," Jason is allowed to manipulate the situation and only improve long enough to get his boss off his back. Meanwhile, the rest of his co- workers see that he is getting away with poor performance. Their inevitable question is, "Why am I killing myself to get to work on time and do a good job, when no one is holding him to the same standard?" The leader's credibility drops, morale plummets and customer dissatisfaction grows. Jason may be a valuable employee but if his manager allows Jason to hold him hostage, just because there's a shortage of job candidates, the damage will spread outward like ripples in a pond.

It's understandable why choice "B" is attractive, and perhaps even desirable. Firing him seems a logical choice, since he didn't respond to all of the discussions or the warnings. Yet, there are several things to consider. If he is fired, the manager and the other overworked employees will be burdened even more. Although they may be supportive of the decision, dissatisfaction will soon grow in proportion to their additional workload. More importantly, when good employees are fired they are often surprised, even shocked. After the fact, they say they never really thought the boss was serious. They thought they were somehow protected because they were a "good" employee. But unfortunately, this realization comes after they are fired, when they have no opportunity to act on their regret.

I really dislike choice "C." It reminds me of the teacher/student or parent/child relationship that I think is counterproductive in today's workplace. In this option, punishment is clearly the intent and shame is the objective. The problem is that adults don't respond well to this tactic. They get angry. They get even. If they come back to work at all, they are forced to save face by laughing it off ("I loved my vacation...I went fishing!") or by stirring up their co-workers against management. It's a lose/lose outcome.

Choice "D" isn't perfect either, but it treats the employee as an adult who has to face up to the situation and take responsibility for their behavior. It can sound something like this," I like you Jason and I think you do good work...when you're committed to doing it. We've had numerous discussions about this and I've even given you a written warning that you could lose your job, but you haven't sustained the improvements you said you would make. I want you to take tomorrow off to think about whether or not you want to work here. If you do, come back the day after with a written action plan that outlines what you will do. If you don't, it's been a pleasure working with you."

When you have a "tough love" philosophy, it means you:

-Set high expectations, so employees will be proud to be on a winning team.

-Be as selective as you can in the recruitment process.

-Hold everyone accountable to the same high standards, no matter what position they hold.

-Expect employees to take responsibility for their own behavior, rather than fixing blame on others.

-Have adult-to-adult policies that eliminate "babysitting" and punishment.

-Give honest, straightforward feedback that let's everyone know where they stand.

-Expect honest feedback from your co-workers in return.

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 & team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized training (leadership skills, presentation skills, internal consulting skills & facilitation skills), team conflict resolution and retreat facilitation. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (800) 348-1944, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com