Are your employees at work or are they absent? Sure, people may show up for work (or maybe they don’t), but are they actively engaged?
A hospital worker in Italy’s south was allegedly paid for 15 years without working a single day. Investigators blame the inefficiency of checks at all levels.
Salvatore Scumace is accused of an estimated 538,000 euros, or more than $645,000, for a job the police say he never performed throughout his long and less-than-productive career as a hospital fire-safety employee. According to The New York Times, Italy’s financial police are investigating his “remarkable record of absenteeism.”
When I first read about this situation, I was shocked. I mean, how could someone remain on the payroll for an extended period, never show up, and no one noticed.
Then it hit me. Stuff like this happens all the time.
We’ve got workers who, in theory, are showing up for work every day, although they aren’t doing much in terms of work. They log into their computers, move some files around, answer a couple of emails, and work diligently to do as little as possible. They’re rarely confronted about their behavior because the majority of leaders hate confrontation. So, here’s what they do instead.
- They hope and pray this employee will give their notice.
- They recommend this person be transferred—or worse, promoted.
- They work around the individual by asking co-workers to pick up the slack.
On the one hand, how can you blame the manager? So many people are tossed into management with little more than a prayer and are given absolutely no training. Underperforming employees and employee absenteeism are challenging situations for even the most experienced managers to handle. Yet, the moment someone is anointed supervisor or manager, we expect them to be skilled in the art of difficult work conversations.
As I write in my forthcoming book, Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Difficult Conversations at Work, the avoidance of difficult conversations has grown into a full-blown epidemic. In terms of personal communication, people are getting super good at avoiding sticky conversations. According to workplace resource startup Bravely, a whopping 70 percent of employees avoid awkward conversations with their boss, colleagues, and direct reports. The fact that so many people are avoiding conversations is having a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of organizations and their employees.
- New research from Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, authors of Crucial Conversations, conducted in December of 2016, found that every single conversation failure costs an organization $7,500 and more than seven workdays.
- An August 15, 2017, study released by leadership development and conversation experts at Fierce, Inc. found that 53 percent of employees handle “toxic” situations by ignoring them. By doing so, they are allowing toxic employees to continue to wreak havoc on the workplace.
As a result, employee engagement and organizational trust are declining while workplace stress is rising. We have to take action and slow this epidemic down, or we may never recover from the damage that is being done. We have to start somewhere.
The place to start is with one conversation at a time. We must teach leaders and employees how to have productive work conversations. Otherwise, we run the risk of rising levels of employee dissatisfaction and decreased productivity, impacting business growth and employee wellness. This must be a priority if we are to prevent this epidemic from spreading.
Here’s where to begin.
We must create a safe environment—a culture of transparency. This would be a place where employees at all levels of the organization feel comfortable saying what’s on their minds.
We need to encourage people to take on some of the more challenging everyday work conversations they’re avoiding. We do this by coaching employees through less threatening situations. With practice and a few successes under their belt, they’ll be better prepared and will have the confidence needed to tackle whatever may come their way.
Encourage those at the top of the organization to share their own experiences through storytelling. The belief that leaders are born and not created is a fallacy that many still subscribe to. Having leaders share some of their most awkward conversations will help to show people that no one gets a pass and that all of us can improve our communication skills.
We have to reassure people it’s okay to ask for help. Many people sit in silence and say nothing because they’re afraid of what others will think if they ask for help. Frequent check-ins with leaders, especially those who are new to the job, will help build rapport and make it easier for people to ask for assistance.
It’s been a tough year for many. Take a few minutes to check in with your people and engage them in conversation. Start with, “How are you doing?”