When An Employee Isn’t Pulling His or Her Weight

It’s an interesting saying, “not pulling your own weight.” But think about a team of horses, or oxen, or even sled dogs. Each one must contribute equally to the success of the team—or else the sled gets stuck in the snow, the field doesn’t get plowed, or the stagecoach takes a lot longer to reach its destination.

In an updated scenario, your business is the stagecoach, and success is your destination. If the entire team is pulling equal weight, you’ll get there together, faster. If even one employee is not pulling as hard, or putting in as much effort, it will take longer. And you might not ever reach the success your company is capable of.

So what does an employer do when one employee (we’ll call him “Joe”) is not doing his part?

First, don’t assume that Joe knows. Joe is not a mind reader. Even if his co-worker, Lucy, rolls her eyes each time Joe mentions he’s tired, or brags about how much he’s accomplished today, he could have no idea the rest of the team thinks he’s a slacker. You might think Joe is deliberately unproductive, while Joe thinks he’s a superstar.

Don’t wait. If it’s several months before Joe’s annual performance evaluation, don’t wait for that special day to bring him into your office and talk about his performance. It’s crucial to address a problem when it’s happening (or in this case, not happening), and ask for improvement right away. Especially if Joe’s teammates have complained to you about an unfair situation—you owe it to them to follow up and fix the problem. As boss, that’s your job.

Don’t accept excuses. Joe may have legitimate issues that are affecting his work performance. If so, call on your best leadership skills and help him through this rough spot—and if he’s a great worker, help him keep his job. But, if Joe is just really good at avoiding his workload, it’s only fair to the rest of the team to require improvement.

Choose a good time. If you’re under unusual stress, or the entire team is, due to a big project deadline, don’t escalate a potential problem. Wait until you can handle the conversation with Joe with clarity, keeping objectives in mind.

Acknowledge Joe’s strong points. Give a dose of good with the bad news. Focus on Joe’s strengths, appreciate his effort (such that it is) but let him know that other employees are doing more. Ask for Joe’s input on splitting the workload more fairly.

The best pre-employment screening process includes employee background checks, employee credit checks, and criminal background checks. You’ll know you’re hiring safe when you screen employees before offering a position.

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