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Uneven employees

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Q. I manage someone whose work is very uneven in quality. Some days she’s on top of everything, in good humor and well organized. Other days she drags herself in looking tired, moody and unhappy. On those days she often forgets previous instructions and misses important details on customer orders, such as delivery time.

When I talk to her about it, she apologizes, promises to do better, blames it on vague personal problems and comes across as very immature. I can handle the moodiness (while not condoning it), but when she misses details on customer orders, it can have serious ramifications for the business beyond poor service and inconvenience. I need her to understand and accept that the job does not change for her personal problems and moods. How can I do this?

A. Don’t focus on your employee’s moodiness per se. The most critical issue is NOT the fact that she’s moody, but that she has made errors that impact your business negatively. You must keep these two issues separate (her attitude swings and her work-related errors). Don’t try to establish a cause-effect link between the days when she’s moody and the days when her errors increase. (While that causal link may indeed exist, it’s not something you want to bring up with her if your goal is to boost her performance in a supportive manner.)

Instead, rivet her attention on the bottom line. Praise specific examples of her dependability and pinpoint instances when her mistakes (careless omissions, oversights, etc.) have directly hurt your firm’s business. Document her errors (as well as documenting praiseworthy examples of projects she performs well). Allow her to see how she’s doing every week so there’s no ambiguity about the fluctuating quality of her work product. Insert the cold, hard details, such as the total present and future cost of her errors and the specific consequences such as loss of business or goodwill with a key client.

Finally, beware of prying into her personal life in a well-intentioned effort to lift her spirits. If severe moodiness persists, you may want to refer her to an EAP (an employee assistance program). But when supervisors cross the line and start offering unsolicited personal advice to a troubled or immature employee, it can backfire.

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