In The Workplace

I’m a department manager at a medium-sized factory. We are currently observing a hiring freeze, and must manage with our current employees, including some that are difficult to deal with. Due to the challenges brought about by the pandemic, we don’t want to mete out drastic disciplinary action for minor offenses like absenteeism, tardiness, and missed deadlines. Can you help me solve my situation? — Honey Dew.

A boy was visiting his grandparents on a farm. This was his first visit out of the city, and he was fascinated by how different life in the country. When it was time to gather eggs, the grandfather asked the boy to come along. As the grandfather was gathering the eggs, the boy asked:

“Why do we have to come all the way out here to get eggs? Why don’t we just get them out of the refrigerator like my mother does?”

This story exemplifies how we should be patient in dealing with people who may not fully understand what’s going on. It can be to a manager’s advantage to make them see things your way, helped along by a touch of charm.

However, this requires understanding the situation of people working for you, an understanding which can only come with a close working relationship featuring two-way communication.

One of the best ways to get people to see and do things your way is to understand their individual personalities. It doesn’t mean giving in to what they want but to reconcile them to company policy. This isn’t difficult as it appears to some managers. You may have done it to a certain degree — talking to them about your concerns, though they may have failed to meet your expectations.

Now, here are some things to explore:

One, continue to talk to all workers under your care. Management must initiate the talking as workers can be reluctant to get the ball rolling. Go to their work stations and initiate small talk. Be spontaneous. Take the opportunity to offer any help in performing their jobs. Be pleasant. It’s hard to be nasty when everyone is always smiling.

Two, observe normal disciplinary procedures. While the pandemic seems like good time to suspend enforcement, it’s not the best answer for problem workers over the long term. Other workers may even be inspired to test the limits of the rules. Announce a date by which time you expect strict compliance, but try to make conditions bearable for all concerned.

Three, master the art of giving constructive criticism. Being nasty can produce instant results, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. If ever it is effective, the solution is fleeting. The best approach is to solve problems while minimizing conflict. Essentially, the trick lies in the tone of your voice. Talk to people in a calm, controlled manner. It will have a better impact.

Four, talk to employees in private. No one wants their mistakes called out in public. It’s just common sense to discuss issues behind closed doors and without interruption. In all cases, avoid making an example of a certain employee. It can backfire as other workers may even rally around him.

Five, be specific about the policy that was violated. Avoid throwing around vague observations about laziness, lack of responsibility, or negligence. For example, if an employee is tardy, cite the number of times and number of hours he was late for work. It would be much better if you can show him a copy of the attendance log and the specific provisions in the employee handbook.

Six, apply substantive and procedural due process. We call it substantive due process when an employee has violated a company policy, if not a certain provision of the law called “just causes.” It is called procedural due process, when you issue a charge sheet, normally referred to a “Notice to Explain” allowing the employee the full opportunity to explain his side.

Last, monitor work performance closely, but not to the extent of micro-managing. Require the worker to give you feedback on the work, but don’t accept alibis. Understand his views, but be polite and professional. If necessary, tell him that you want a real change.

By following these strategies, you can develop a more sensitive and empathetic approach to managing each problem employee. Give it some thought. These strategies are meant to constitute a positive approach applicable to corporate or real-life situations. Just remember to ask the essential questions, like: Are you providing the right amount of positive feedback? Are the workers satisfied to hear your views? Do they walk away feeling distraught? The truth of the matter is that praising the workers is a delicate balancing act that’s nonetheless necessary for smooth interaction.

That’s why it has become imperative for executives to keep the workers happy and energetic, making positive feedback a vital and necessary skill in management. If you can’t do this, don’t be surprised if you fail to manage problem workers.


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