A Second-Class Employee
Not too long ago, an employee said to me that they were tired of being treated “like a second-class employee” by me…and it honestly made me second guess myself as a manager. Of course at the time I couldn’t help but think in the back of my head…”well you’re not exactly first-rate employee material either.” To be fair, this employee was great with the exception of their attendance. The particular employee who reproached me was frequently absent from work due to chronic medical issues. The outburst from the employee seemed to come from their exasperation of on-going adverse conduct management of their many absences, which would range from several days to several weeks, with little to no notice at all.
The reality that attendance was going to be an issue for this employee had become apparent early on in the employment relationship. It was so bad, I had recommended that the employee be terminated during their initial 90-day period with the company, since they had missed almost a whole month from work due to illness during that time frame. Unfortunately at the time, the HRBP overseeing the region was out on leave and the person covering for them didn’t want to rock the boat, so to speak, and so the employee remained with the company.
Given their prior attendance history with the company, I wasn’t so sure the issue wouldn’t become a recurring one…unfortunately I had been right. Although the employee was a rehire to the company and had come with warnings from their previous manager about excessive attendance issues…I looked past those warnings, and focused on the employee’s ability to do the work required of the team, and so the decision to rehire them fell on me.
At the time, my team had been down headcount for several months while we waited for approval from our client to backfill a position. The team was struggling to maintain customer service scores and continue to deal with store operations. If you have ever worked in wireless retail, you know that your customer base can be very demanding, especially when they’re already pissed off that their mobile devices aren’t working when they come to see you.
My first mistake was letting my desperation for headcount cloud my hiring judgement. In hindsight, once you have an experience or a history with a particular employee, then it pays to take into consideration the overall previous history of the employee when making a decision to hire someone back. Not to say that it is impossible for someone to be a great hire a second time around, but it is a good idea to re-visit past employee performance before ‘pulling the trigger” so to speak.
Over the course of year I worked with this employee, my disciplinary acts increased in severity, as I attempted to curb the employee’s excessive absences. I went through every conceivable form of disciplinary tool available in order to empathize with the employee’s ongoing health (and other personal) issues and their need for time off from work, while at the same time continuing to hold them accountable to the same attendance standard as every other employee that worked for the company. However in the end, I came to a realization that regardless of how many times I wrote them up or threatened to terminate them, both the employee, myself (and the team for that matter) were at the mercy of the employee’s health issues.
A few weeks ago I had read an article in the Washington Post about the effect of absenteeism on increased stress and lowered morale in the workplace…and couldn’t help but to think: “No Shit Sherlock!” (Way to go SHRM and Kronos for surveying the obvious!) Most people will agree that those in an unhealthy relationship with their co-workers will adapt their behaviors in the workplace in order to protect themselves (as best as they can) from the effects of the unhealthy relationship.
I did try to do some reflecting on my part to ensure that I wasn’t letting my actions as a manager be influenced by my emotions as an employee, which in all honesty were in the shitter. I thought back to the employee’s reproach of being treated like a second class employee, and I asked myself, were my actions biased?
As an employee, I was tired of constantly dealing with the unexpected changes to my schedule, the last-minute scrambling to find coverage, the added workload, in the end; my low-morale began to show in my work ethic…I was beyond disengaged.
Regardless of how I felt about my own employment situation, I felt comfortable knowing that I was acting in the best interests of the business (btw…”in the best interest of the business” tends to be the ugly side of HR most of the times…but that’s a completely separate post) when it came to how I disciplined this employee. Their was a fair balance in taking into consideration both employee needs and the needs of the business. Yet, we all know that at the end of the day, business needs will always prevail…regardless of how shitty that sounds.
Moral of the story: regardless of how well you’re doing at managing your employees per your companies guidelines, human relations are far more complex than can be captured in any employee handbook. When it comes to managing up or managing out an employee, communication is going to be an essential element of the process to ensure that the employee understands why things are happening. Never-the-less, this process is probably going to suck as much for you as it does for the employee (unless you’re one of those people who enjoys the misery of others – to which I say…get the fuck out of management), be sure that you are empathetic to your employee’s emotions during this process to try to keep them focused on improvement as opposed to mentally checking out while they search for a new gig.