If you run a shop, you have probably dealt with a high-maintenance employee. In my opinion, a high-maintenance employee is one of the most dangerous and expensive employees a company can have, and their bad attitudes can infect the shop like a cancer. There are many different types of high-maintenance employees. Some are argumentative or complaining. Some may refuse to adhere to company policies. You may have seen some who seem to resent authority, perhaps resorting to underhanded techniques to disrupt the company. This can lead to wasting a lot of time trying to handle this employee, but perhaps even more dangerous is the morale problem it can create with your other workers.
So, what can you do? It would seem to be easiest to just fire problem employees, but there are some things to consider before choosing this option. First, are they really good at their jobs? Aside from their bad attitude, are they a financial asset to your company? Can you possibly improve your managerial skills by keeping this employee? These are all important things to factor in to your decision. You may find that after exhausting every option you still have to let this employee go, but this should only be after careful consideration. Reviewing the following points will help as you work toward your decision to keep or remove a high-maintenance employee.
A good self-evaluation of you as a manager is the first step. Could you be part of the problem? Do your tactics as a manager cause employees to, as they say, “cop an attitude?” Maybe you are overbearing. Do your demands make it impossible for an employee to feel good about what they do? Or could it be just the opposite and you’re just not paying enough attention to the activities of your employees? If you’re not actually working with the employees, you could be missing more than you know. My office has four large windows that look out into the shop, but all kinds of things still occur right before my eyes. Not being visible to your employees is a big mistake.
Asking frank questions may be helpful in finding out the cause of a problem. You could ask the employee if they are unhappy at work or if there is something bothering the employee you could help him or her with. This direct approach could well be just what the employee was waiting for and could evoke a very positive response. The key thing during these types of discussions is to stay problem-focused, not people-focused. Work on the solution to the problem, not berating the employee. Generally, high-maintenance employees have strong personalities and can be emotional. A meeting with this sort of person can get out of hand very easily. If not handled well, it can quickly deteriorate into an emotional battle.
You also could try starting your conversation by pointing out the good things the employee does rather than the negative things. For example, “Eric, you’re doing a great job keeping your tools and area organized,” before getting into an area that needs attention. Experts will advise the use of commendation before condemnation. If the employees know you have noticed some of their good qualities, they’ll be more likely to listen to some constructive criticism.
Another important aspect of dealing with a high-maintenance employee is to document every disruption this employee causes. It may come to the point that the employee will have to be dismissed because of their actions. Having details in written form serves two purposes. First, you can show the employee what kind of problems they have been causing. Seeing a list of their offences may help them to realize just how much trouble they have been making. Secondly, keeping records can protect you if any legal trouble were to arise because of firing the employee.
It’s very important not to look the other way when you have a disruptive, high-maintenance employee. You are only weakening the unity within your workforce. You are also opening the door for others to become difficult, letting the entire workforce know they can do whatever they want without fear of repercussion.
Workplaces have all types of personalities, good and bad. Use good judgment when deciding how to handle someone that is causing trouble in your shop. The most important thing you can do for your employees is to be fair and consistent in your decisions. You may never run short on high-maintenance employees in the shop, but as the manager, you can do plenty of preventive maintenance. Your staff will thank you.
About the author: Jon Olson is production and operations manager for Sterling Surfaces in Sterling, Mass. A solid surface fabricator since 1982, he has gained experience in all phases of solid surface fabrication while helping Sterling to grow from 10 to 50 employees and become one of the world leaders in solid surface fabrication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.