Are Managers Responsible for Difficult Employees?

Are Managers Responsible for Difficult Employees?

Wow, there are a whole host of services and articles to help managers with difficult employees. When you do a Google search you can find an overabundance of articles.

An engaged employee is one who has a positive emotional connection that naturally causes him/her to exert greater discretionary effort. A difficult employee is one who is actively disengaged. They are a recruiter for inappropriate behaviors and poor performance. They are a “Pied Piper” of dysfunction. The actively disengaged avoid effort and actively enroll others to join them in their poor performance. Difficult employees create tremendous waste in all its forms including managers’ time, lost productivity for other workers, and even damaged customer relationships. I guess this is why there are so many books and articles for how to address them.

But, what is the root cause of these employees and what percentage of responsibility do managers have for the root causes? When my first wife and I were having problems we visited a marriage counselor. He asked me what percentage responsibility I thought I had for the marital dysfunction. I had never thought about that question before until that moment. It took me a while to answer and I think I told him “around 10{a61c4e1b991c7f3a090c87cb66410712d4121fe18ab0f6421d85cbe80290558f}.” He then asked, “Don’t you think you own at least 50{a61c4e1b991c7f3a090c87cb66410712d4121fe18ab0f6421d85cbe80290558f}?” It took me a while to realize I had contributed to the dysfunction. I believe managers with difficult employees are similarly in denial.

There are only two major sources of difficult employees. They were either hired that way or they evolved into dysfunctional by working at the company. Either way the managers have a significant responsibility for both of these sources. Think about it. Managers control the hiring process and the policies, procedures, and processes of the organization.

Is it fair to say that a manager controls the hiring process? Doesn’t a manger own at least 50{a61c4e1b991c7f3a090c87cb66410712d4121fe18ab0f6421d85cbe80290558f} responsibility for hiring someone who is difficult? Of course managers don’t purposely hire the disengaged but that’s not the point. Even if the employee is a great actor and hides their dysfunction, isn’t the manager responsible for having a predictable hiring process that can uncover this secret?

Furthermore, who has more control of the working environment than the management? If the environment contributed to the dysfunction shouldn’t the manager take a higher percentage of the responsibility for this as well? A manager’s number one job is to create the proper context for productive and high quality work, correct?

I have a Blackberry. I sync it often with my Outlook files as many people do. It started giving me an error message during the synch process. I got very angry and called Verizon and started demanding service. “Why should it just suddenly stop working?” I asked. The customer service person was very cordial and walked me through a series of steps to back up my data and then wipe clean the devise so it could synch properly. She told me it was probably a corrupt piece of data. I was upset and impatient.

After walking through all the steps I was able to synch again without incident. That is when it dawned on me. I had accidentally disconnected the devise during a synch earlier in the day. I received a call in the middle of the synch process and forgot to keep the devise connected when I answered the call. I had actually caused the corrupted files. I was a cause of the dysfunction.

I believe mangers are a significant cause of difficult employees. They either hire them that way or they create them with unknowing dysfunction of their own. If you are a manager go ahead and read all those books and articles that focus on what you can do to change the employee but I also advise you to start looking at your behaviors and decisions for the real root causes. I advise you to take at least 50{a61c4e1b991c7f3a090c87cb66410712d4121fe18ab0f6421d85cbe80290558f} responsibility for these actively disengaged. Make sure you check your hiring processes and your working environment for dysfunction. I bet you will find a huge opportunity to change some things you are doing to cause the problems.

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