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The Little Employee That Could

Do you have a long-term employee in your organization or agency with no growth or mobility? Does the employee lack on-the-job training? As we employ and seek to fill vacancies, we do it with the intent of keeping the employee for the long-term. During the preliminary stage, the new employee is expected to adapt and grow through developed skills. Learnability is shown to decrease as we age. It is the desire and capability to develop in-demand skills to be employable for the long-term.

The longer we wait to deploy training strategies, the more bad habits fester — leaving us with an employee who simply seeks to undermine.

At some point, the supervisor grows tired of this type of employee and displays an extreme range of emotions from anxiety to distress. This is the employee that I like to refer to as “unable,” often proclaiming “no” to tasks viewed as difficult. The easiest, yet wrong solution: shirk responsibility of the “unable” employee to another unit. Some qualities of the unable employee are:

  • Intentionally displaying a lack of skill (e.g. working slowly or sloth-like)
  • Self-victimization (portraying a negative view of the employee-supervisor relationship to external parties)
  • Persistent complaints
  • Requiring cycle of incentives (rewarded day-by-day for small tasks; while I believe a virtuous cycle is helpful to the employee, it needs to come hand-in-hand with showing visible growth)

So how do we solve the issue of a long-term employee who can’t but also won’t?

While we are quick to suggest that maybe it is a lack of capability, we need to backtrack and also think about why the employee was selected in the first place. What about the employee allowed them to have their current position? More importantly, have we tried to consider cross-training this employee to see what talents are available?

I like to believe that when we put all the drama and toxicity of workplace gossip aside, everyone has the potential to prosper. However, we have to work to fully expose the potential and both supervisor and employee have to willingly address the bad habits.

Here are some suggestions in ways to start the conversation:

  • Weekly meetings to discuss ongoing projects
  • Quarterly reviews
  • Ownership of responsibilities

Like a wound, bad habits left to fester become infected, eventually leaving scars. Scars are representative of the body, and similarly, employees are representative of their organization. The longer we neglect or ignore an issue, the more it reflects poorly in the long-run.

I recognize that this is a hard issue to tackle. We have to remember that the supervisor that transitions in is not responsible for the bad habits existing in the employee; they are responsible for acknowledging and addressing how to stop the festering. Ownership teaches accountability to the employee–the first patch to a wound.

Nhu-Phuong Duong is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a recent grad with a Master’s of Arts in English and the Humanities. Nhu worked in several non-profit organizations serving the homeless in DC and New York City and currently works as an analyst for the federal government. With two years in her current position, Nhu deploys project management strategies to improve efficiency and efficacy. In her undergrad, Nhu studied English and Philosophy with a track in Performance in Media Studies. Research follows the Baudrillardian studies and the influence of simulation and hyperreality on human interaction in the social and political spaces. In her free time, she attends bluegrass shows and homebrews. You can read her posts here.

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