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Signs you have a terrible employee

It’s not easy to admit when an employee is inadequate at their role. ELIZABETH BOYD shares tips on how to identify poor work qualities and improve workplace culture.

In recent weeks, I have been having great conversations around how much guidance and coaching we should deliver to our most challenging, and sometimes truly terrible, retail managers. As retail leaders we also need to know when to throw in the towel when we’ve given an employee multiple opportunities to turn their performance around.

Their best chance

Employee engagement and involvement is vital in retail as it determines the efficiency and strength of the customer experience and operational accountabilities. It’s important that every person in the staff team is pulling to reach the organisation’s goals. The number-one killer of team momentum is lack of individual motivation. An unmotivated employee not only fails to perform their own duties but also affects the people around them. In the long run, this can cause irreversible damage or create overwhelming obstacles to team success.

The frustrating part is that this type of retail employee often has it in them to do really well but they’re instead giving up, becoming a burden to the business. When you suspect someone has ‘checked out’, there are ways to spark their ambition but if they decide not to perform, there’s little a manager can do. The issue of repairing motivation is time-critical; if left unaddressed, it can bleed into the team and disrupt forward momentum.

Spark ambition

To spark ambition, assign a passion project with a deadline. Retail leaders are often driven by goals and are more likely to achieve something if they have had success with it in the past and can reconnect with something inspiring or motivational. Providing an employee with specific tasks and deadlines will give them a sense of urgency and an opportunity to achieve success. Furthermore, it can give them a tremendous feeling of ownership over a project, reinforcing their drive to complete it.

Additionally, give a previously-strong leader a challenge that allows them to think critically and creatively. If they can deliver great results, you may get them back on track.

Encourage communication

It’s amazing how effective communication can be in solving most workplace problems. Half of the battle, when it comes to lack of motivation, is determining ‘why’.

"An unmotivated employee not only fails to perform their own duties but also affects the people around them. In the long run, this can cause irreversible damage"

Trust plays an important role and can be a catalyst for re-energising a store leader’s perspective of the business. Team collaboration can also promote engaging and motivating communication, and driven colleagues can motivate an employee who has become apathetic or complacent.

If a retail leader has been given the support to deliver a performance that contributes to the health of the collective team and that leader still fails to meet expectations, it’s time to look at the other identifiers.

Threatened by leadership

Employees who feel threatened by leadership will say “you” and “they” more than “I” and “we”. They’re also actively disengaged, sharing their unhappiness with anyone who will listen, including co-workers and maybe even clients.

It is a huge red flag that you have lost a person when they look for reasons why they can’t or won’t perform required duties, even including tasks they have previously completed with enthusiasm.

When we discuss planning, strategy and accountability, there are times when we need our team members to deliver a specific result or feedback in a given time frame.

Complacent and lost employees select what they will and won’t deliver.

If your team member habitually ignores requests or disagrees with input, you will need to scrutinise and closely manage that person’s work and co-working relationships to make sure they’re not rejecting aspects of assignments they don’t like or just simply don’t want to do.

Nothing stays secret for very long, especially when most retail staff at the assistant store leader and store leader level have their own agendas.

I was recently visiting with a store leader who is long-time ‘friends’ with another store leader in their market and yet was all too happy to share with me that their colleague was on their third interview for another job.

When co-workers see their previously-engaged team members fall flat and become disengaged, they will quickly share issues that cause challenges, along with sharing secrets that were previously meant just for the two of them.

This leaves the challenged employee with no one to provide a reference or endorse their skill set for another job because they have burned their bridges.

I recently instituted a policy in a retail organisation where store managers must call their direct supervisor when they are late for work, leaving early or sick. The process was to text or email so that there would be no discussion around the change of schedule.

This was certainly an ‘a-ha’ moment for the field leadership who found that their hard-working, trust-worthy, reliable store leaders had no issue communicating their scheduling changes via the phone while managers who were suspected of having checked out would still text or email.

When this was addressed, the managers would apologise or say they hadn’t seen the updated policy.

Though it is true that we value independent judgment, empowerment and autonomy in the retail workplace, when employees feign ignorance of a new policy after it has been rolled out, it is just another critical clue that these employees are ready to be exited from the business.

Master of excuses

Sometimes staff think they’re serving a valuable role by playing devil’s advocate; however, constantly poking holes in ideas and suggestions will quickly take the wind out of initiatives and extinguish others’ enthusiasm.

Employees that are ‘too far gone’ always offer excuses as to why something cannot be done; they mention plenty of obstacles and issues but never a solution.

"Employees that are ‘too far gone’ always offer excuses as to why something cannot be done; they mention plenty of obstacles and issues but never a solution"

They are more consumed with excusing their poor performance and assigning blame to a customer, co-workers, their team or even the weather than delivering a good performance.

Bad employees also tend to speak poorly of every supervisor they’ve ever had.This goes with one of the previous points – that they blame the lack of forward movement in their careers on their bosses. If they’ve never been satisfied with a leader, it’s likely to reflect something that’s going on with them.

It might be their inability to be satisfied, unrealistic expectations, a problem with authority, a general anger problem, and/or they simply cannot play well with others.

This should be a topic to include in the interview phase of the relationship.

I know this may seem strange for some of you who haven’t experienced it, but there are employees who deliberately engage in a campaign of awfulness in order to be fired. When some people give up, they wish to go out with a bang, leaving ruin in their wake.

After many years in retail, I recently experienced such a person. I find this type of employee fascinating, so I started asking questions.

This person felt as though they had been wronged and victimised for six years and they didn’t want to continue with the organisation. They admitted to giving up and wanting to be fired.

They told me that they had been working on it for about six months and were upset because the district manager never visited when they were scheduled, so they didn’t know if their message was being received.

After all is said and done, there is only so much store owners can do for an employee who doesn’t want to perform. We can talk, guide, coach, counsel, beg, and plead for them to be better and do better; we can give them our time, our energy, and our words.

The time to give up on an employee is when they have truly given up on themselves. You cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped and, in today’s retail landscape, business owners cannot afford to keep mediocre or poor performers on their teams if they seek to deliver remarkable results – they just can’t!

Sometimes, the only correct course of action is to cut your losses and rehire. After all, there is someone great out there who will be happy and motivated to deliver excellence. Put energy into finding that person instead.

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