Weekly Wrap: How Much Time Do You Spend on Problem Employees?

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Just about every job comes with some bad baggage that has to be handled — and managers seem to get stuck handling a lot more of it than most.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I read this latest survey from Robert Half International of chief financial officers. It that found that, on average, supervisors spend 17 percent of their time — nearly one day per week — dealing with poorly performing employees.

That sounds like a lot, but really, I’ve been a manager for a long time and it seems to me that handling problem employees has, over the course of my career, taken up a lot more of my time than that.

How poor hiring decision impact morale

The survey by Robert Half, a staffing company that provides of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis, not only asked 1,400 CFOs at U.S. companies about the time managers take dealing with poor performers, but also how a poor hiring decision affects the morale of the team. Their responses:

  • Greatly — 35 percent;
  • Somewhat –– 60 percent;
  • Not at all — 5 percent.

Bad hires are costly, not just for the drain they place on the budget but also in terms of lost morale, productivity and time,” said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International, in a press release about the survey. “Underperforming employees also require significant attention from employers, distracting managers from business-critical initiatives and causing other team members to pick up the slack.”

He added, “Bad personnel decisions rarely happen by chance. In retrospect, managers usually discover they failed to give proper attention to the hiring process.”

Well, he’s right about that. I think most managers will tell you that they can pinpoint something they either overlooked, dismissed, or just didn’t deal with during hiring as they look back and reflect on their problem employees. And as this survey makes clear, problem employees are a problem for more than just their managers — they are a problem for a good chunk of an organization’s workforce as well.

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Failing to deal with problem employees

Plus, all-too-many managers dawdle or just fail to be proactive with the problem people in their employ, and this is what really impacts the rest of your workforce because they know better than anyone what the problem employee is doing (or not doing), and what that does to everyone else.

Your best people get that way because they are focused on doing a good job, and it offends them when some slacker skates along and takes advantage of the system. You risk alienating those good folks if you fail to quickly deal with the bad ones.

But, back to the original thought: do any of the managers out there feel that they spend more than 17 percent of their time dealing with problem employees (or, things that are the result of those people)? I’d love to know if you do, so please leave a comment below.

Is wasting time actually a good idea?

Of course, there’s a lot more than how much time we spend managing problem employees in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • IT director spied on female employees. Technology can do a lot of great things, but it can also enable the sleasiest among us to do bad things as well. That’s what I take away from this story in the Tampa Tribune that said that, a “company’s information technology director (used) a software program to leer at the women in Atlanta from Tampa, where he worked. … On Thursday, the former IT director, Christopher Scott Channer, 34, pleaded guilty in Tampa to a federal charge of intercepting communications. Channer told the FBI in February that he had activated a program called “Theft Tracker” on the computers of female employees he found attractive. The program enables users to remotely obtain screen images of computers and activate web cameras in the event a computer is stolen. … He “saw pictures that he probably should not have” but did not intend to humiliate or blackmail anyone, according to his plea agreement.”
  • Wasting time at work — is it actually a good thing? Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman in the Miami Herald  points out that, “New research says time wasting can be beneficial. Yes, you read that right. Columnist Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times … recently wrote a column about research by Jane McGonigal, a woman who designs computer games. McGonigal published research in the Harvard Business Reviewand says a small amount of time wasting, such as time playing Angry Birds, can make us more resilient.  McGonigal … says engaging in some activities we assume are nonproductive — as tiny exercises — may actually be a smart way to spend time, especially at work. These practices can make people more-resourceful problem solvers, more collaborative, and less likely to give up when the going gets tough. In other words, they can make people more resilient, more capable.”
  • When a merger brings you back to a company you left. When people leave companies, they generally leave for good, and this is especially true when they leave under less-than-deal circumstances. And, that’s what makes the subtext of this Wall Street Journal story interesting, because it details how a merger of two book publishers is bringing back together people who left one of the companies but now find themselves employed by them again. “The planned merger of book publishers Random House and Penguin Group will reunite many former colleagues. But for some, the reunion might be bittersweet,” the Journal wrote. “(Ann) Godoff is one of a number of Penguin executives who worked at Random House earlier in their careers. Some, such as Ms. Godoff, left the company under difficult circumstances. Being thrown back in with former colleagues in the proposed Penguin Random House joint venture could pose challenges — particularly as the combined company is expected to look for cost savings as a way of dealing with the changing economics of book publishing.”
  • Are your ideas worthless? I love The New York Times Who’s the Boss blog, even when it veers into some pretty strange territory — like it did here: “In a recent post, I wrote about my belief that ideas had no value and that it wasn’t worth anyone’s time to protect a business idea. It’s a notion I have been talking about for some time, but it is a controversial concept that often provokes strong disagreement. That disagreement, I think, stems from a misunderstanding of what an idea really is — or at least what I deem an idea to be.”  It’s an odd topic, but well worth a read if you value ideas in the workplace (and who doesn’t?).

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.