Hiring Wisdom: Why Do You Tolerate Mediocre, Underperforming Employees?

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Feb 8, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Have you ever noticed how we humans tolerate all kinds of things on a daily basis?

Commute traffic, nosey neighbors, and crying babies on planes are just a few that come to mind. But if we weren’t able to tolerate these every day annoyances and acted out somehow, people would probably think we’re not playing with a full deck.

Maybe that’s why, all too often, in the business world, managers and supervisors tolerate mediocre employees as well.

It’s such a common practice in our workplaces that you’ve probably heard the old saw: “You get what you expect and you deserve what you tolerate.” In other words, if you put up with underperformers or even mediocre employees, you deserve the resulting outcome.

Why we tolerate underperformers

The main reasons we tolerate underperformers and mediocre employees are:

  1. We’re just too nice. We practice conflict-avoidance and we don’t want to be responsible for upsetting someone or putting them in dire financial straits. We sidestep short-term pain and end up tolerating long-term misery.
  2. We believe we don’t have the time right now to hire and train a new employee. In other words, the convenience of tolerating mediocrity and under-performance trumps the inconvenience of change.
  3. We don’t want to pay unemployment. No one stops to think about the long-term cost of substandard performance versus the limited-time payment of benefits. One way or another, you’re going to pay and the right decision is in favor of the overall quality of your organization.

A few simple solutions

There are some simple solutions to these problems, but like most things worth doing, they aren’t necessarily easy:

  • Recruit and interview religiously — Make sure you are looking for new hires even when you don’t have a slot to fill.
  • Then you can raise the bar because, when you don’t have to hire the first minimally qualified person who shows up. You can kick your hiring standards up a notch and refuse to settle for less.
  • Hold everyone accountable, including yourself — Spell out what it takes to be a successful member of your organization. Make sure everyone knows exactly what’s expected and specifically what it is that you won’t tolerate.
  • Hold those who miss the mark accountable and reward those who meet or exceed standards — How can anyone improve if they don’t know anything’s wrong? If behavior, good or bad, has no consequences, what’s to keep your great and good performers motivated? Soon they’ll be looking for a job where their efforts are appreciated or, worse, slip to the just barely tolerable level too.

Although it isn’t likely you’ll be able to teleport to work, move away from those nosey neighbors, or silence crying babies with your smile any time soon, if you’ll take these proactive steps at work, you’ll be much more likely to get what you expect and minimize what you have to tolerate.

This was originally published in the February 2016 Humetrics Hiring Hints newsletter.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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