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Lynne Curry: Managing the unmotivated employee; accommodating disability

Lynne Curry

Q: I’m a new business owner and supervise my first employee, a young man who pushes endlessly for “perks” even as he displays a lack of work ethic by packing up his things before 5 and texting during the work day.

I could fire him and hire someone new, but I might get someone just as bad. I sense he has no idea how I or any other supervisor would read his behavior. How do I turn this around?

A: The answer you seek lies between his ears. What motivates him? If you find that out, you may be able to get what you want, a motivated employee. 

Managers waste both money and time when they ignore the employee mind, the least understood component of employee productivity. Starting from day one, each employee forms answers to questions such as:

• What am I supposed to do in this job?
• How hard do I really have to work?
• How does my pay relate to my performance?
• How does my supervisor evaluate my performance?
• What recognition or other personal satisfaction will I receive?
• Are the rewards worth my effort?

My suggestion -- have an honest conversation with your new employee. Start by asking him what he thinks of his job and what he enjoys and finds most challenging. Ask him his goals.

Then, tell him what you value about his performance and what you want him to work on or improve. Outline your standards. Let him know you don’t want to see him texting during the workday and that you expect him to work up until 5 p.m. and not to pack up his desk 10 minutes early.

Next, while some employees self-motivate, other employees’ commitment directly relates to how their supervisor recognizes their effort. I get the sense things might be tense between you and your employee, with his pushing for perks while you grit your teeth when he texts. Do you give him positive feedback during the day? Have you told him how you evaluate his performance and what pay raises lie in store if he meets and exceeds your expectations? 

Finally, you may have made a hiring mistake. If so, waiting for things to get better on their own only compounds the problem -- have your conversation today. 

Q: I supervise a customer-service employee completely unable to multitask. I’ve repeatedly written her up for forgetting details and for taking forever to make the simplest decisions. The final straw came this morning when she showed up at a staff meeting totally listless, which was a drain on everyone else’s morale.

I pulled her into my office after the meeting and told her she was fired. That’s when she told me she had Parkinson’s disease, had talked to people in her support group and been told her employer needed to accommodate her problems.

I can’t afford an employee who can’t present herself well to our customers. Frankly, I suspect her of prescription drug addiction. 

What are my options if I fire her?

A: If you fire her, you’ve eliminated your options and said, “The ball’s in your court. Sue me or file a claim with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission or Alaska Human Rights Commission.”

Parkinson’s is second only to Alzheimer’s as a chronic progressive neurodegenerative disease. The problems you’ve identified -- depression, memory loss, problems with multitasking and decision making -- can signal PD, as can tremors, slowness of movement, poor balance, cramped handwriting and facial rigidity that may result in a “blank” look.

Many individuals with PD don’t tell their employers as they fear pity and the loss of jobs and job opportunities.Instead of firing your employee, consider her statement a request for an accommodation and ask her to provide physician documentation of her illness. Her physician may also be able to address the tasks your employee can or cannot do and help you determine the types of accommodation needed.

If your employee can’t perform her job duties with reasonable accommodation you may be able to ultimately and safely terminate her. You first, however, need to explore whether you can accommodate an employee with this type of disability.

Finally, if you don’t trust the documentation you’re given, you can ask your employee to see a physician of your choice -- and you can tell that physician your suspicions and concerns.