Tardy colleague must be stopped

Dear Joan:
I work in a six-person department that is responsible for setting risk management policies and data analysis for an insurance company. A fellow worker is causing a disturbance in the department. This worker-I'll call him Brian- is tardy for work 85 percent of the time. Brian will generally arrive in the office a half-hour to an hour late everyday. Brian also likes to walk around the office talking about all his life experiences and telling people of his great personal (at least he thinks they're great) achievements. To top it off he is also one of the world's great procrastinators. Brian will put off all his assigned monthly and quarterly duties until the very last minute, at which time he finds it difficult to complete his tasks without greatly inconveniencing other people in the department.

The reason this is a problem is because the rest of the people in the department are very conscientious regarding completing our assignments on time. Without exception, we find Brian's behavior distracting and disruptive. We all have spoken to our manager about the problem and our manager has spoken to Brian about the problem. Yet, after four years, it still persists. What can we do?

Brian is the kind of guy you love to hate. He seems to have contempt for his peers, boss and the company. He breaks the rules, mistreats his peers, manipulates his boss and then rubs their noses in it. Obviously, the question is, "Why on earth has he gotten away with this for so long?"

One explanation may be that you have a weak boss. He or she may be paralyzed by the thought of straightforward confrontation. Some bosses will avoid a problem like this in the hope that it will go away, never realizing how their inaction destroys the rest of the work group. A situation such as this can also happen if your company is hesitant to fire employees and fails to support managers who take disciplinary action.

If Brian has talents or knowledge your manager values, he or she may be willing to trade the group's satisfaction for Brian's demands-a kind of corporate extortion. Your boss might be afraid to confront Brian for fear he will leave. The rationalization might be, "Well, he's so valuable when he is here, what's the difference if he's a little late?" Another version could be, "He works overtime and sometimes through his lunch hour, I don't want to say anything to him about coming in late." Unfortunately, these rationalizations are not fair to the rest of the group, since you are doing his share of the work when he's there as well as before he arrives. I wonder if it has occurred to your boss that all of you could begin to come in late and miss deadlines, since that seems to be a standard of behavior he accepts.

It's interesting that your group has been bailing him out when he doesn't do his work and listening to his exploits, as well. In effect, your work group may be enabling his manipulative behavior to continue. Next time, can members of your group be "too busy" to help him out in the eleventh hour? If your group has been helping him because all of you are accountable for the finished product, consider a new strategy: allow the deadline to be missed. When your boss asks why, point out that everything was done except "x" (Brian's portion). There is no need to blame Brian. By the third or fourth incident, your boss will get the message. Another approach that is less risky for the group is to warn your boss in advance that the deadline won't be met and why.

Although the group is probably politely listening to Brian's tales they are obviously seething on the inside. It's time to cut the polite chatter. When Brian saunters over, members of the group should remember an errand they had to run, be too busy to listen, return a phone call or simply say they have too much to do. If he doesn't get the hint, a direct comment should be made: Interrupt him with something like, "Brian, we've got to get the data for the monthly report. You've been late the last three months and we don't want to race around at the last minute. I'd like to talk but we really should get going on that."

Finally, as a last resort, the group might want to quantify how Brian's behaviors are affecting the work. A specific description of the hours and productivity lost per month might be a surprising fact to convince Brian or your boss that this is a serious problem. Perhaps your boss isn't aware of the seriousness of the situation and that's why he or she hasn't pushed it. Be careful though, since it may look as if the group has ganged up on Brian and it could be seen as foul play. However, considering Brian hasn't been playing by the rules, your group may decide to stop playing the game.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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