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Managing a Problem Employee

Managing a Problem Employee

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

March 16, 2010

A reader writes:

As you hail from the non-profit sector just as I, you can probably lead me down the right path with this one. I’m a new HR rep for this mid size organization, and have inherited this situation:

We have two employees who work in our fundraising department. They both work full time, but telecommute at their will, which is fine. They both also do consultancy work on the side. Now employee 1 does not worry me so much — she signed the conflicts of interest policy, great work ethic, and we’re happy with her work. We know when she is telecommuting, she is still working for us.

Employee 2 manages our donors — databases, relationships and so on, unlike employee 1, who mainly puts the feelers out there for donations. My worry is this — we know that she is managing donor accounts for other organizations as her freelance work. She could be using our donor base for her own consulting work, and she could also be using our data to levy her work with other non-profit organizations, i.e comparing donations, targeting similar client bases etc. which would hurt us significantly.

She also signed the policy, but her work is less than par and her general attitude indicates that she does not have the best work ethic. She delays in responding to her emails and calls, and is sometimes unavailable when donors call — so we suspect when she is “working from home,” there is little work going on.

Aside from a suspicion of foul play, we have not much else. If I had hired either of these people, I would have let them know that they could not do consultancy work while they were our employee. But this has gone on for nearly a year, and only now have eyebrows been raised.

We are not able to prove that this is happening, and we also have the situation where both have declared their consultancy work, and both have been allowed to continue. We are working on corrective action for her sub-par work, but the bigger danger is this — that if she becomes a disgruntled employee, she will exploit our databases. What are our rights as an employer? Our conflicts of interest policy does not stipulate what to do if we only have a suspicion.

We are also in a situation where we have one employee who we trust is not exploiting us, and one who we suspect is, so do we treat them both the same, or do we go ahead and take action for the one we suspect? What is your take on this situation?

Why is no one managing here? It sounds like there are three things holding you back: that you’re worried you can’t “prove” your case, that you’re concerned about treating her differently from her more responsible coworker, and that you’re worried she may exploit your database for her other clients.

There’s no requirement that you treat a reliable and an unreliable employee the same. You have two different situations, and you should handle them differently, tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of each. That’s just good management.

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