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Back to Basics:How Can You Turn Around Productive Problem Employees?
Recycling guru, Clarence Leising, offers tips for how to deal with a production employee who also causes problems for the rest of the operation.

By Clarence Leising
Date Posted: 11/1/2012

††††††††††††††† Every plant has some employees who just donít seem to get it. I am talking about the kind of person who comes in late once per week, misses a day whenever he can get away with it and messes up paperwork driving the office workers mad. His irregular activities would anger the controller by making the payroll records more complex than necessary. This same person may also be proficient in running all your equipment, drive trucks and forklifts, and can quickly build any pallet to your specifications. Oh, and he can make more in piece work in four days on the GMA line than most laborers do in five days on the job.

††††††††††††††† What do you do with an employee like this who is an asset in one sense and can also make your life difficult at other times? Maybe the first solution is to punish negative behavior by giving this worker time off without pay. This costs the employee money. But in this case, he didnít care. Letting him go didnít really help the operation because he could fill in anywhere and the job never suffered.Every time I would let him go, someone in a skill job would be out for some reason. And I had to hire him back to keep everything running. After a while of this back-and-forth posturing I decided to play the situation like a video game.

††††††††††††††† First thing I wanted to do was to get the controller off my back as well as alleviate concerns for the office staff. I took this guy aside and made rules that I knew he wouldnít like. First new rule that any day he was late, he had to stay over to make up time. And if he didnít make up the time he would be making block pallets the next day, and he hated making block pallets. Knowing what this employee disliked gave me leverage to gain some control over the situation. This creative solution worked to improve the situation.

††††††††††††††† If your company has specific policies regarding progressive disciplinary actions, you need to follow those policies to protect yourself from any discrimination claims. These policies should be covered in your employee handbook. However, many companies choose to detail very little in terms of specific disciplinary procedures or policies as to provide management greater leeway in handling any given situation.

††††††††††††††† Next, I made sure that anything this employee needed done in the office, I took care of it. This alleviated stress for the office staff. Usually, any concern he had dealt with piece work rates. In some states, you have to adjust piece work wages by hours worked. Also, I logged every disciplinary action in my own personal notebook and in employee files. This included even if it was just a verbal reprimand over a slight mistake. Every employee knew that I carried a large notebook for employee records. Each employee has his/her name in the book. Disciplinary actions, production totals, vacation time, late arrivals, absentee records were all kept in this notebook. For redundancy purposes, it is good to keep this information in a spreadsheet or in a computerized database. There has been many a time this information saved the company money on unemployment cases.

††††††††††††††† Another thing we did to discourage employees missing days on the job was to tie Christmas bonuses into absenteeism. We allowed line workers to be late twice and miss two unexcused days without affecting their bonus. If you made up the time by staying late or working Saturday we still docked the Christmas bonus. This created an expectation that you needed to be at work during the appropriate hours because it affected production if employees did not follow the scheduled production shift.††

††††††††††††††† It is also important to document policies and procedures so that everyone knows what is expected. This can best be done with signs near the work area, employee briefings, giving each employee proper training and providing access to an employee handbook.

††††††††††††††† Employees with bad attitudes can affect your entire operation. This can manifest itself through insubordination, habitual tardiness, laziness or chronic negativity. If taking the employee aside and addressing the issue doesnít work, or if disciplinary action doesnít solve the problem, you may have no choice but to dismiss the employee. In situations where employees have significant stress at home or other family situations, you may want to bring in an outside professional counselor. Management has to decide how important this employee is to the operation and how much leeway should be given.

††††††††††††††† Every once and a while, you will come across an employee who just wonít respond to proper guidelines, and those are the tough cases that require firm decisive action.

††††††††††††††† I could never understand why this man just didnít quit and go down the road to another pallet shop. So one day, I asked him why he stuck around after my new rules. The employee responded that he went to other pallet shops when I had let him go before but he didnít like the other people. This shows that you can find a way to work with talented, troublesome employees. Even when you have to get tough, if you treat them fairly while punishing improper actions or attitudes, you will likely turn a problem into an asset.

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