5 ways to manage unreliable employees

Are you frustrated by the impacts unreliable employees have on the spirit and performance of your team? If so, you’re far from alone

5 ways to manage unreliable employees
Are you frustrated by the impacts unreliable employees have on the spirit and performance of your team?  If so, you’re far from alone.  Many of the leaders we work with complain of the need to manage people who drop the ball just when they are needed most.   Tardiness, absenteeism, missed deadlines and inconsistent standards of work quality are common concerns. 

Research suggests that absenteeism costs the Australian economy more than $33 billion in wages and lost productivity every year.  According to an Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) study a loss of productivity (79%) and low morale of the staff filling in for others (60%) were the most frequently identified effects of unscheduled absences.

The unpredictable nature of their performance creates risk, drains time, energy and resources, and ultimately holds your team back from being at their best.  Among the most important steps you can take to address the problem include these. 
  1. Face reality.  Understand that no matter how talented someone is, if they fail to behave successfully their value is limited.   Recognise when people with high potential are undermining their own success and that of the team. .   Avoid the all too common mistake of allowing so called high performers to get away with a hit and miss standard of contribution.  Expect consistency from everyone, including your best and brightest. 
  1. Leave no room for doubt.  Set very clear expectations about how people are expected to behave.  Being a reliable member of the team is a fundamental expectation of any employment relationship.  Make this clear from the beginning, and through coaching feedback, reinforce what being reliable means in your business. 
  1. Show and tell.  Showcase what you expect from others.  Be consistent and reliable yourself and your team are entirely more likely to rise to the occasion.  Give ongoing constructive feedback about ways in which someone can be relied upon, and ways in which they can potentially improve. 
  1. Address issues. Recognise when unreliable employees are holding themselves and others back from achieving what they are capable of.  Engage early.  As soon as you become concerned about your ability to rely on someone, let him or her know.  Explain why their behaviours or choices are eroding your confidence that they will deliver when they need to.
A common issue many employers face is people taking ‘sickies’.  While of course its important to respect the right for people to take personal leave due to ill health, its critical also that you have honest conversations with those you suspect are in fact absent for other reasons.  Be compassionate but expect also that people demonstrate resilience and commitment to getting to work and doing their job. 
  1. Act with strength.  Be prepared to take the actions necessary to consistently apply the standards you set.  Idol threats do nothing to resolve issues and in many cases reinforce the very behaviours you are working to overcome. 

Be prepared to exit from your business, people who are unwilling to shift their approach. If you have provided fair opportunity to understand your expectations and reasonable support to change their behaviour, someone continues to be unreliable, its time for them to go.  Holding on to people who consistently underperform despite your best efforts to help them to succeed will drain the spirit of your team and undermine results.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately.  Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit www.ryangately.com.au or contact [email protected]