Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will be taking a look at challenging employees. In the coming weeks, Lynne will be covering common behavioral problems (gossiping, violence, drug use) that employees may posses and how to address these issues.
In my experience, the first thing that managers need to do in order to deal with challenging employees is to ground themselves in their own rights and responsibilities. Once you understand your rights, it's much easier to tackle the tough conversations you need to have.
Managers Have Rights and Responsibilities
Let's get one thing perfectly clear. You have a right to manage. Many managers, in today's environment, seem confused about this. They wimp out and don't fulfill their responsibilities to the company and to their employees.
Challenging employees are not children, even though they may sometimes act that way. They have to do what you say, assuming that what you're asking them to do is legal, ethical and consistent with your organization's policies; otherwise, you can terminate them.
With all the employment litigation and general employee grousing these days, it can be easy for a manager or supervisor to feel as if he or she is under siege. Employees complain at the first opportunity about workload, their coworkers, and the "lies" they believe upper management is telling them.
In modern workplaces, where just answering e-mail can take up half of all your productive hours, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture: You are the boss! If you're a manger or supervisor, you do have rights. These rights can and should help you manage difficult employees. Your rights are limited to three, but they're big ones. You have the right to:
- Require compliance with your directives
- Change standards and assignments
- Require excellence
Let's take those one at a time.
Require Compliance with Your Directives
As long as what you're asking your employees to do isn't illegal, immoral, or unethical, they must do what you ask. Otherwise, it's insubordination. This legal term doesn't just refer to military service; it's a hallmark of employment law. Employees must do what you ask, and if they don't they can be fired or disciplined. They may think that what you're asking them to do is silly or stupid and they may be right. They may think that someone made a mistake making you the boss but regardless of whatever else you are, you are always, the boss. You can ultimately terminate them if they refuse to recognize this painful truth - as long as you have followed the proper steps and have the proper documentation. Instead of asserting this right, many managers wimp out! Why do they do that? Many reasons, some are:
- Unreasonable lawsuit paranoia
- Conflict avoidance
- Fear of losing a friend/colleague
- Ignorance of their rights
- Too busy
Regardless of what you think your reasons are for not having the difficult conversations that you need to have, you still have the responsibility to have them. Many managers do have a fear of conflict and want to avoid it. One of the best things you can do to improve your management skills is to reframe your attitude about conflict. You need to realize that-rather than something to be avoided-conflict is a part of life and something that can actually lead to higher performance and more creativity in the workplace. That's because conflict provides the creative energy that leads to innovation and productivity "juice" that you need to hear everyone out and come up with better ideas than you might have collected as individuals.
In order to make this leap, you need to have good conflict skills. You can acquire conflict skills, just as you would any other new skill such as learning a new computer program or salsa dancing steps.