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By Darryl Stewart
A very anxious lego man sitting at his work desk.

Are they really a problem employee?

I am often asked to consult on situations with specific “problem” employees. One common situation is when the leader is openly critical of an employee for reasons the employee does not understand. Sound ridiculous? I see it all the time. I am even guilty of it myself from time to time!

You cannot blame an employee for a performance issue if they do not fully understand what your expectations are. If the reason they fell short was that they did not understand what you expected, you are to blame, not them.

For example, if an employee fails to show up for work on time, and this is an issue for you, ask them what they think the policy is. Many times, employees have a different idea about what “on time” means. They might even have a previous experience where it was okay to be a little late. If they are unsure about what being on time means to you, define it precisely for them. For you, it might mean being in the building, dressed for the job, and ready to start working. For the employee, it might mean pulling into the parking lot. The key point here is that ensuring clarity about workplace rules, policies, and expectations is your responsibility.

If you criticize the employee for being late without making sure they understand your expectations, you will quickly stifle their engagement. My suggestion is to explain your expectations carefully to them – without condescension – and then have them repeat them back to you. Careful explanation means nothing unless you can verify that you have been heard and understood. The only way to be sure is to hear them repeat back what you have said.

Make sure your team member has a full understanding of your expectations before you conclude that they have a performance issue. If you discover that a gap in their understanding has led to the issue, do the right thing and apologize for your miscommunication, even if you feel that they should have used “common sense”. If the person truly is a bad apple, the problem will repeat itself and then you can deal with it more directly. If it does not repeat itself, you have just saved yourself from making a very common mistake that can lead directly to a demotivated team member.

IBEX Payroll extends our profound respect and immeasurable gratitude to all the ancestors and keepers of the land on whose traditional territories our work takes place. We acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. This land is sacred, historical, and significant. 

Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

This statement only acts as a first step in honouring the land we reside on and its peoples, and must be paired with education, understanding and informed action.