How To Get Rid of a Problem Employee… FOR GOOD

By on December 16, 2015 in Human Resources, Leadership with 82 Comments

Word 'problem' crossed out on chalkboard with word 'opportunity' written underneath it

The biggest challenge government supervisors face seems to be dealing with problem employees. You know, the ones who can’t seem to complete projects on time, who can’t seem to get along with anyone else in the office, and who are sucking up 80% of your time while you’re undoing or re-doing whatever damage they’ve done.

Because it’s government you can’t just fire them. So what do you do? How do you get rid of a problem employee?

Take a deep breath here… you don’t. And, if you are one of those people who came to government service because you want to make a difference in the world, you don’t want to. If you have an employee who seems to be causing problems in the office, odds are that employee is neither a psychopath, an idiot, nor a Neanderthal. More likely that person is simply a BBOOB, a Body Badly Out of Balance.

It’s like this: Everyone has a set of talents, skills, abilities, physical attributes, experiences, likes, dislikes, and even things other people call “flaws” that is unique to them. The sum total of those things makes a person ideally suited for some things. And completely unsuited for others.

BBOOB-ism tends to emerge so gradually that the poor BBOOB doesn’t even know what is happening to them. Often they start out as a SLOB, only Slightly Out Of Balance, making little concessions, taking on jobs, tasks, and responsibilities that while they CAN do them, the act of doing them is tedious, laborious, or otherwise soul-sucking.

What’s sad is that this BBOOB came into the organization wanting to contribute, wanting to make a difference. Just like you did.

What are the warning signs of BBOOB-ism?

The primary indicator of BBOOB-ism is when a historically successful person seems unable to get results. (How do you know they were historically successful? They got the job.) This condition can be misdiagnosed as “promoted beyond their capability”.

In actuality, the person has made a commitment to something outside their gifts. This person is likely to be perceived as irritable, touchy, and otherwise unpleasant to be around. You would be too if you were trying to squeeze yourself into something that wasn’t a good fit.

The worst part is that the “misfit” can be so slight that even the BBOOB doesn’t recognize the nature of the problem. The BBOOB just knows that work isn’t working.

Here’s the kicker about getting rid of this “problem” employee… if you throw this poor BBOOB out the door, they’ll still be a BBOOB and not able to give their highest and best gifts to the organization or to the world.

Remember when your mom told you the world doesn’t revolve around you? Well guess what? She’s right. You aren’t the only one with gifts. We all have them. AND, we all received different ones.

On top of that, we each receive our gifts in different ways and at different times. Sometimes they show up when we don’t know it – sort of like the Tooth Fairy leaving money under your pillow. And that BBOOB in your office could most likely use some help looking under the pillow to find his own gifts and figure out what to do with them.

Let me be very clear. This does NOT mean that you should ignore dangerous or illegal behavior, or a failure to meet mission objectives. 

It does mean that you can guide that employee to discover and align their own highest gifts in order to create balance, if not in the life of the BBOOB, then at least in your office. This is a big topic so I’m going to give you my three summary steps for helping the BBOOB get back into balance – so you can get back to being the great leader I know you are.

Step 1: Find at least one thing each day to HONESTLY (no faking here) appreciate this employee for, and tell them so.

Step 2: Focus your attention on communicating clearly from the place of “I respect you AND I respect me.”

Step 3: And this one is key, Consider the Unspoken Question: What if I am the BBOOB?

(By the way, when you truly consider this question, you’re taking the first step to ensure that you are not, in fact, the BBOOB. If you discover that you are becoming a SLOB (Slightly Off Balance), you can take steps early to avoid becoming a BBOOB. This step is key, because BBOOB-ism is contagious.

Once those gifts are being utilized to their highest degree, balance is naturally achieved! The idea of sacrifice (which leads to BBOOB-ism) is abandoned in favor of the idea of Greatness.

And whether this balance has the “problem” employee viewing their work differently or asking to be released from their commitment to find another position, you no longer have a BBOOB in your office. You have a talented individual who is perfectly prepared and positioned to give their gifts to the world… and one who thinks you’re amazing!

If you suspect there’s a BBOOB in your office (or that you’re heading in that direction yourself) I’ve got an opportunity for you to stop BBOOB-ism in its tracks. And it’s FREE! I’m cordially inviting you to join me on the Greatness In Government campus, a virtual campus of government employees that supports your gifts and understands the unique opportunities and challenges facing those of us in government service. Simply visit us at www.FreeGiftfromMartha.com and enter your name and best email address.

© 2016 Martha Austin. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Martha Austin.

About the Author

With more than 24 years as a federal employee, first as an active duty Army officer and later a Foreign Service officer, staff leadership instructor and professional coach, Martha understands what it means to simultaneously feel inspired by the desire to serve and stifled by the “needs of the service.” Martha is on a mission to create public institutions that ignite success, prosperity and joy for EVERYONE they touch – especially those in them.

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