Tell boss specifics on problem worker

Dear Joan:
Our small department has a problem with an individual who takes advantage of a lax boss.

The individual comes to work as much as one half-hour late repeatedly, and over-extends the lunch hour. A lot of company time is spent conducting personal business such as paying bills, making or receiving numerous personal phone calls, as many as three or four per hour. The matter is compounded by an unwillingness to work in harmony with other employees.

I believe this type of behavior creates a negative environment in the department, especially since the boss chooses not to reprimand this individual. He also does not document these actions so that any disciplinary measures can be taken.

Is there anything that can be done by the co-workers to try to improve the situation?

This rotten apple is spoiling everyone's attitude. You've called your boss lax. I call him irresponsible if, indeed, he has chosen to do nothing.

Is there a possibility he is unaware of the specifics? I suggest that a spokesperson be nominated by the group to make sure he hears the facts. Since you are motivated to solve the problem, why don't you volunteer to speak to the boss?

You have a clear, unemotional writing style, which suggests you could describe specific behaviors to your boss without accusations or theatrics.

If you do approach your boss, start out by giving him the benefit of the doubt. Say: "I know how busy you've been, so you may not have noticed what's been going on. We have hesitated to come to you and we've tried to overlook this problem but we can't anymore. We need your help to solve it because it's starting to affect our attitude and motivation."

Then calmly spell out some of the facts as you've observed them. Make no assumptions or you will weaken your position. For example: "When I went to the copy machine at 10:30, she was planning a party with her friend on the phone. Her invitations were on her desk, and I heard her discussing the food to be served. Ten minutes later, when I returned, she was balancing her checkbook."

This is much better than saying, "I'm sure she wastes company time by conducting personal business at work." Also, by mentioning the task you were doing, you won't appear to be a gossip who does nothing but spy on your co-workers.

Some bosses hesitate to confront employees with rotten work habits because the employee's production is still good. To create a sense of urgency, choose examples that can be tied to production. If you can point to delayed projects, missed deadlines, complaints, or cases where the group has been forced to take her calls or do her work, your boss will be compelled to take action.

If your boss fails to reprimand this employee, he probably isn't going to reward your good performance either. Both require good judgment and leadership. If this is the case, consider looking for a new job.

There are a few circumstances that may be worth staying for: If your excellent performance is highly visible to others; if a promotion is less than a year away; if the technical skills you're learning will be highly marketable; or if your boss is about to retire.

Confronting this employee yourself will only make matters worse. If he or she flaunts the rules in the face of authority, your intervention will probably be ignored or create more hostility.

If you decide to stay, focus your energy on your own performance. Don't be tempted by the philosophy: "If he gets away with it, I'll do it, too."

If your attitude begins to decay, it could destroy your good record. Maintain a healthy, motivated outlook and make a promise to yourself: "Some day, when I'm the boss, I'll confront and resolve problems before they affect the morale of the team."

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,, or 
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