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‘Problem children’ in the office — cultural issue or just a few bad eggs?

“Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. … It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint.” — Henri J. M. Nouwen

By Lisa Ryan

Just like starting the New Year with a resolution to start hitting the gym, changing the culture in your organization takes time and commitment. Think about picking up a five-pound weight for the first time. Pushing yourself to complete several reps, you feel great. Then the pain of sore muscles sets in, and you have a choice — you can quit or keep going. By choosing to continue, your strength increases. Over time you can lift 10 pounds or 15 pounds with ease. You break through and experience the rewards of better health.

It’s the same with employee engagement. In the beginning, your employees’ trust in you may be weak. The first time you say “thank you” to them, they may wonder, “What does she want?” Keep going in your approbations. When your staff sees that you are making a sincere effort to acknowledge their contributions, they will stop being suspicious of you and your motivations.

How do you deal with the “problem children” that work for you? One way is to concentrate on their positive traits. Before you leave for work in the morning, think about one good thing about that person. Can’t think of anything? Ask yourself, “Well, if I DID like something about this person, what would it be?” Make it up. You’ll find it starts to get easier after awhile. Like any new habit, it may feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you continue to do it, the more likely it is you’ll begin to believe it.

Assess your workplace to determine if the problem is with the overall culture or if a few people are the ones doing most of the damage. If there are a few employees who are disrupting the flow of positive communication, it’s important that you get them back on track or help them to find their next opportunity – out of your organization. According to Gallup, actively disengaged employees make up about 20 percent of the workforce. These people are negative, toxic individuals who suck the soul out of any room they enter. Unfortunately, not only are they unpleasant to be around, they are expensive – costing your company approximately $3,500 for every $10,000 in salary.

So, you’ve decided it’s time for your negative employee to find their “next.” Remember — documentation counts! Granted, in an employment at-will state, you can fire any person, at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all, as long as it’s not illegal). However, you need to make sure that you have accurately documented the employee’s actions as well as the steps you took to try to help them. Start early with your notations – and show a balance between positive and adverse actions taken by the employee.

Because you don’t always have the full scoop on the life of your employees, and you don’t know what they’re dealing with or what they’re going through, you can only do what you can do. The law will judge you based on what a “reasonable” employer would do. So, do the best you can – and document.

By focusing on the good, and connecting with your employees on a personal level, you’ll create the type of workplace that keeps your employees from taking their skills elsewhere.

Lisa Ryan is the founder of Grategy, where she helps organizations create more positive work environments. She is the author of eight books and co-stars in two documentaries: the award-winning “The Keeper of the Keys” and “The Gratitude Experiment.” She can be reached at (216) 225-8027 and via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.

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