The View from HR

View from HR: How best to deal with a poor performing peer

CorrespondentMay 3, 2014 

“What do I do about a poor performing peer who puts the team at risk, our results in jeopardy and causes me extra work?” asks a young professional.

She wonders if she should talk to her manager about the problem. Will that help, hurt or maybe brand her as a complainer?

Since every workplace culture is different and managers vary, there is no single answer. There are some good approaches to consider. The worst approach is to suffer in silence, brood and carry the stress until you quit in frustration.

One good choice is to work as effectively as you can, filling the gaps created by a poor performer and trusting that virtue eventually prevails. Proving your worth well before you challenge the productivity of others is always a good idea.

Work hard and shine

Where the manager is attentive and reasonably fair, “work hard and shine” is my favorite. Nothing creates credibility and promotability like an employee who meets the challenge every day with little concern for credit received. Good managers notice and look for ways to repay these traits. Rewards will come in clumps, so patience is required.

A less attentive (or overwhelmed) manager may need some help. If you have a reputation as a consistent and selfless performer, it might be time for a meeting. This is not about you and your burdens (“I had to work late again last night!”). Focus on the business and team results. Important outputs are at risk because a key role is repeatedly mishandled.

Examples of dropped balls and botched plays are key. Stay away from subjective causes (“He wastes time on the Internet all day.”). Focus on quantitative impacts (“These three due dates were missed last week, causing these things to happen.”). This is not about your willingness to work hard; it is about the risk to the business when, inevitably, these problems go uncovered.

An old tradition

If the burdens caused by a poor performer make your day unbearable, maybe it is time to look elsewhere. Do you like your work, enjoy most co-workers and respect your manager enough to first have a conversation with that manager? Can you raise the topic as a problem to solve together rather than as a threat of resignation?

Playing the useful role of co-problem solver will give insight into your manager’s awareness and concern levels. Does your manager care if you want to come to work each day? The answer really matters.

Peers confronting peers about their work and dependability is an old tradition. The conversation should be as objective as possible, describing the actual failures and the impact of those failures. Offering assistance to the willing, and forecasting escalation to the unwilling, are sometimes effective. What is your workplace or team culture on such matters?

You are not a numbered ball in a lotto machine. Take reasonable actions to solve peer problems.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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