Dear Dr. Blanchard: I have an employee who constantly comes late to work, or calls in sick, especially when she knows I will not be in myself. I have talked to her about the problem and have warned her to be more prompt. However, I've had limited success. It seems whenever I focus upon improving her behavior, she improves. Then she returns to her old habits. How would you handle such a situation?
Tired of Tardiness
Dear Tired: It sounds as though you feel the problem is more yours than the employee's. Be careful about taking ownership for other people's behavior because it: 1) lets them off the hook; and 2) puts you in a no-win situation because you cannot directly control anyone else's behavior. You must place responsibility for a problem with the person who is causing it - and who best can resolve it.
The problem you describe - tardiness and absenteeism - has been a difficult one to combat for most employers. On an average workday, 3.5 percent of all employees are absent from their jobs for one reason or another. A staggering 40 million work days are lost each year. Absenteeism costs American employers an estimated $26 billion dollars annually in lost production.
You need to implement a plan for specifically improving the employee's performance over the long term. One of the best plans of this type is called the PRICE system, which stands for Pinpoint, Record, Involve, Coach and Evaluate. Here's how it works.
Pinpoint specifically identifies the area for potential improvement. In your case, this would be arriving at work on time and the elimination of excessive absenteeism.
Record first establishes a base line of data about the area for improvement and then systematically monitors any change in the behavior. You need to be able to specifically tell this employee how many days she has been late or absent in a specific period, say one month. This establishes the problem as a tangible fact and keeps discussions from becoming debates about the extent of absenteeism.
Involve the employee in the plan to improve her performance by establishing goals for improvement and eliciting strategies for achieving those goals. Determine the levels of acceptable improvement and possible rewards and incentives that could be used to encourage improved performance.
Coach the employee on a daily basis by either praising progress, or reprimanding or redirecting behavior. This is the most critical step to the success of the entire plan. This is the step where managers most frequently stumble. Most behavior is controlled by its consequences.
If there are positive consequences, the behavior is likely to continue. If there are negative or no consequences, the behavior is likely to stop. You need to create positive consequences for having this employee arrive at work on time. Start by noticing and thanking her for being on time.
Evaluate improved performance on a predetermined date to decide if adequate progress is being made. In your case, since you are dealing with a recurring problem, continue to extend the monitoring and evaluation for at least a year.
Managing is not an on-and-off activity. You can't focus on improving behavior one month and then ignore it the next month. This not only undermines your efforts, it also makes you look inconsistent. This is a grave mistake if you ever hope to build trust in your working relationships.
You must remember to set an example of the behavior you expect from others. If you are late arriving at work, not only are you not able to see whether your employees are absent or present, but you also convey a double standard of: "The rules apply to everyone but me."