A new supervisor confused over a performance problem

Q: I am a new supervisor in a financial services company in Boston. We don’t have an HR department. I have four employees in our department. Three of the four employees are great. Then there is one that doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. She returns late from lunch. She arrives late in the morning almost every day. This employee always seems to either just meet or no meet deadlines. 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. Here is what I would recommend:

First 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 behave like this, the longer that they think that this behavior is acceptable. Even if the former supervisor is not available, I would still recommend confronting her. However, it is helpful to have some history. Also, talk to your manager to make sure that he or she does not have additional information which could be helpful.

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.

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 consider terminating her. Check in with your manager before proceeding with any further discipline.

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. Click here to read about more employment topics in The Job Doc Blog at Boston.com.