Personal Assistance Service (PAS) | 2200 West Main Street | Erwin Square Tower | 4th Floor, Suite 400A | Durham, NC 27705 | 919-416-1PAS (919-416-1727)

Supervisor Newsletter Archives

Corrective Action

Q. Sexual harassment prevention has been in the news lately. But I do not know anything about other types of harassment. What other sorts of issues associated with harassment and unwanted behavior should supervisors be aware of so we can confront these issues early?

A. Behavior that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people is considered harassment. Characteristically, it is unwanted. So, notice and do not tolerate unwelcome or offensive conduct. Harassment can be illegal when it is based on sex (including sexual orientation, pregnancy, and gender identity), race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, and/or even genetic information. Examples include offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name-calling, undue attention, physical assaults or threats, unwelcome touching or contact, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, constant or unwelcome questions about an individual's identity, and offensive objects or pictures. Consult with your manager, HR adviser or the Office of Institutional Equity for clarification on matters concerning harassment. It is crucial to refer employees who participate in these behaviors to PAS and document corrective actions.

How to Effectively Manage

Q. I have attempted to refer my employee to Personal Assistance Service four times. Each time, the employee gave me good reasons not to refer her. These included how she was addressing her problems. Now I am on attempt number five. Where am I going wrong?

A. Consult with Personal Assistance Service staff to better understand what makes for an effective referral. Some troubled employees provide compelling reasons for the supervisor to postpone corrective action for performance issues. The employee may not perceive a referral to Personal Assistance Service or any other recommendation for job improvement as a pleasurable thing. Naturally, any rationale to postpone these actions is welcome. This is what leads many supervisors to experience what you are currently experiencing. Be decisive, however, because the chronic nature of the employees' work problems may be associated with greater risk for the organization. Chronic problems often culminate in larger crises, and these can have significant consequences for the organization.

Q. I documented my employee’s performance issues and came back the next day to look at what I had written. I have to admit that my emotions really came through in the wording. I am glad I let it “cool down” overnight. How can I present performance issues better?

A. If you are not in a rush, you should let performance documentation sit for a day or two before presenting it. The relationship with your employee can sometimes be stressful, so your emotions can come through in your documentation. It is easier to spot problems with your documentation the next day. Remove your documentation’s emotional content so it does not undermine your goal. For example, eliminate diagnostic judgments like “he is passive aggressive” or “she acts depressed,” and remove character labels like “lazy,” “inconsiderate,” “immature,” etc. Remember you are documenting behavior for the employee’s benefit; therefore, be clear with details and facts so the employee knows what is expected of them and what steps are needed to reach those expectations. Do not speculate on the psychological reasons your employee behaves the way he or she does. Focus on when, who, where, how, why, etc. Your Human Resources’ representative and/or Personal Assistance Service can also consult with you on documentation.

Q. From the Personal Assistance Service professional staff perspective, what are the most common explanations employees give as to why they failed to make the changes in their performance requested by the supervisor in a corrective interview?

A. The most common reasons cited by employees include misunderstanding what the supervisor said or denying the request was made. When you interview an employee and make clear the significant changes you want, you must put that information in writing and, just as important, follow up shortly afterward to clarify that the employee continues to understand what is expected of him/her. This eliminates "wishful listening" or "hearing only what you want to hear." Any unknown discrepancy between what you wanted and what the employee understood will grow larger as time passes between the original corrective interview and the follow-up meeting.

Q. How do I get an employee to do something that is part of the job when he or she doesn't want to do it and refuses to do it? Can Personal Assistance motivate this person?

A. Your authority is stymied in this situation. Refusal to work is usually enabled by a perceived lack of consequences. So the real problem is lack of leverage or influence in the employment relationship. The proof is that the employee is calling the shots. Your focus for a solution should begin here. Is it fair that you should have to manipulate or sweet-talk your employee into doing the job? Meet with your supervisor and next-level manager to discuss the situation. You may be surprised at how a discussion among you three produces a dramatic shift in manner, approach, and resolve in dealing with the insubordination of your employee. You can then clarify the organization's expectations (not just yours) with the employee. Personal Assistance Service has a definite role in addressing underlying issues of your employee's behavior, but it is recommended that you first reassert the realistic nature of the employment relationship in unison with your superiors.

Q. Over the years, I've held off dealing with some substandard performers, often "longtimers" with nonproductive work habits. I backed off because others seemed to pick up the slack. But I'm worried that by not dealing with these underperforming employees, I may be negatively affecting those who are more productive.

A. It's stressful confronting employees and dealing with poor performers, especially longtime employees who may suddenly question why after so many years you are now "picking" on them. However, not doing so will create larger problems. When you send a nonverbal message to other workers that your expectations are not very high, outstanding workers who typically perform well with little supervision can succumb to a nonverbal message that you will accept mediocrity. As a result, they may not perform at their peak level because you apparently don't care. Your best workers may have high standards or may work for anticipated future rewards, but they naturally respond to the standards and expectations that the organization sets. You undermine this productivity dynamic by letting some workers just get by. Not expecting the best of your employees will engender a work unit characterized by malaise and morale problems. Another unwelcome result of allowing substandard performers to go without any consequence is the potential resentment that other employees will feel. Sometimes work groups feel like a family group; and family members generally don't like it when one member is shown partiality. Consider consulting with Personal Assistance Service to help you plan an effective approach.

Q. I don't like reprimanding employees or telling them what they have done wrong. How can supervisors have an easier time with these tense meetings?

A. There is an old saying in customer service: "A complaint is a gift." This idea sees negative feedback or criticism as an opportunity to improve and grow. This same model applies to correcting employees. View a corrective interview as a gift that will benefit your employee's career. Consider the term "corrective interview" over "reprimand." Corrective interview is more closely aligned with the model of supervision, where you use feedback and coaching as tools to help employees grow. See these meetings as opportunities to benefit employees. The interaction will feel less punitive and more like coaching. Be aware that some employees who are your star performers may also need your help because their aim for higher productivity may create a different set of problems if they naively cross boundaries, unwittingly step on the wrong toes, or simply rub people the wrong way just to accomplish their goal. This type of scenario is a part of their growth curve and a coaching interview for them is an opportunity to develop talent. You are potentially helping them become a star performer and a team player. See these meetings from this viewpoint, and they will be easier to conduct and more beneficial to your work group.

Q. I know Personal Assistance Services offers support for employees in dealing with personal problems, but what type of support does PAS offer supervisors in managing issues with employees?

A. Although employee assistance programs such as Personal Assistance Service are primarily known for helping employees resolve personal problems, it was designed to be equally available to supervisors for consulting on conduct and behavioral issues of employees. Strategies for managing and arranging a supervisor referral, as well as post-referral guidance, are also valuable services. Many supervisors don't recall the availability of these services when they could be most helpful. Every employee referred by a supervisor has his or her own unique set of circumstances, so a supervisory consultation with a Personal Assistance Service counselor prior to referral can help ensure follow-through.

You can always call PAS for a supervisor consult. Benefits for you as a manager or supervisor include:

  • Confidential consultation about your concerns
  • Collaborative troubleshooting and problem solving
  • Generated possibilities and options
  • Guidance on facilitating a suggested PAS referral for your employee
  • Information on how a release of information signed by your referred employee could benefit both of you

Just call PAS at 919-416-1727 for your confidential consult and a licensed professional will assist you. In addition, check out our management tools here.

Q. I am nervous about a corrective action meeting with my employee. I fear appearing anxious and inexperienced. Can Personal Assistance Service help?

A. Being nervous in anticipation of a corrective action meeting is normal. There is a way to reduce the degree of nervousness, and the Personal Assistance Service (PAS) can help. Try rehearsing difficult conversations using role-play with a PAS professional. Inquire as to whether Staff and Labor Relations can assist you, as well, and be sure to give full consideration to any steps or procedures they suggest. You may also want to refer to the PAS website and look for the section titled "Supervisor Resources-Employee Performance." Try to anticipate the kind of questions the employee will ask and practice your answers. A few tips: Keep your responses to the point. Do not wander off topic or place a priority on helping the employee walk away feeling OK and agreeable about the corrective action. Some nervous supervisors who worry about "bad feelings" are drawn into talking too much or repeating themselves, not giving the employee ample time to respond. Knowing how you are going to structure your meeting will also reduce your nervousness.

Employees Angry Response

Q. I had to initiate a disciplinary action, and my employee now gives me the cold shoulder. How do I address this passive anger that has suddenly appeared? Prior to the job action, the employee refused a referral to PAS. I do not want to lose this employee.

A. It is not unusual for an employee who has been disciplined to feel angry, especially if he or she believes it was unwarranted or excessive.  How your employee responds to a disciplinary action is also a performance issue, not simply a personal matter. You want effective communication and acceptable levels of productivity from your employee, but you won't attain these without complementary behaviors that make them possible, such as an open and cooperative attitude. Meet with your employee and discuss his or her response to the disciplinary action. Define the response as a separate issue of concern. The objective is to help your employee deal constructively with the disciplinary action. Recommend PAS again as a way to help him or her cope. Later, demonstrate your expectations for a positive and productive relationship going forward.