Q: I am a new supervisor in a well-known tech company in Cambridge. We don’t really have an HR department. Instead, there is an Executive Assistant who offers some HR assistance. I have five employees in our department. We all work together well, except for one. She doesn’t seem to care about anyone else, or even about her performance. She returns late from lunch. She arrives late in the morning almost every day, and we work flexible hours. This employee always seems to either just meet or not meet deadlines. It does not seem like she can do more than one task at a time. It is stressful to work with someone like this. I feel like I cannot rely on her. Sometimes I feel like I am giving more work to the others since I know they will just get it done. Should I confront her? How do I do this?
A: Being a new supervisor is a challenge, especially when you step into a challenging situation with an employee. Let me offer one way to approach her performance concerns.
Talk to the previous supervisor if possible. Are these new behaviors or behaviors that began some time ago? The longer you permit an employee to perform sub optimally, the more problematic it can become. The employee may think that their behavior is acceptable. Even if the former supervisor is not available, I would still recommend discussing your concerns with her. However, it is helpful to have some history. Also, talk to your manager to make sure that your manager does not have additional information which could be helpful. There may be some challenges that you may not be aware of. Is her personal life OK? Is her health OK? There may be some information that may help you to better understand non-work issues. These non-work issues could be impacting her performance.
Begin to document the issues. On what dates did she arrive late? What deadlines did she miss? When did she return from lunch later than expected?
Once you have real-life examples of her performance concerns, you should meet with her, ideally face-to-face. Explain your concerns and give her examples (e.g., On October 27th, you arrived at work at 9:35am when 9:00am is our latest acceptable arrival time and on that same day, you took over 75 minutes for lunch when most of us take 60 minutes or less). Explain that her unreliability and tardiness is becoming a pattern. You can also explain that you have begun to give some of her work to others within your department.
Finally, ask her for her input on why this is occurring. Explain your expectations. Next, document your conversation. If her behavior continues, you may have to give her a written warning or a performance improvement plan (PIP). The hope is that communicating your expectations in an empathetic way, signals that you want her to succeed. If her performance continues to be problematic, you will have several documents which demonstrate that you communicated your expectations numerous times. Check in with your manager before proceeding with any further discipline. You may end up terminating her, but it is both smart and respectful to give her a chance to succeed.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.