There are often problem employees even in downsized organizations that have already reduced their staffs. In some ways an organization such as a work group, team or department is like a person. All it takes is one problem employee and the entire organization may perform at less than top efficiency.


There are different types of problem employees and the lab manager has to deal differently with each type in order to get them – and the entire work group – to perform at higher efficiency.


Top performers


High performers can also be problem employees. In some ways the high performers are the most difficult type of employee to deal with. Some of them have too much control over the workplace. For example, the recession has forced some firms to cut lab staffing levels so dramatically that there is little or no redundancy in some areas. In these areas a single individual can have an organization’s entire functional knowledge of some area of technology. This person may develop an excessive sense of control hinders cooperation with others. The individual feels that knowledge is power and hoards his/her expertise and doesn’t share it. The individual may become a prima donna who doesn’t take direction well.


In this situation it is important for the lab manager to have a strong management training and succession plan in place so the prima donna knows there is another person in the organization developing a mastery over his technology area. Also, a well-organized knowledge management plan can capture much of the prima donna’s knowledge so it becomes available to others.


Employees hoarding all the functional knowledge of an area or riding crest of a highly successful project can become over-confident and feel they are immune from job loss or discipline. This can cause them to coast and be less productive or to take unnecessary risks in their work.


Marginal employees


In the current environment, many lab managers find it difficult to obtain permission to hire new employees. Consequently they hold onto under-performing employees. This makes their coworkers resentful as they see their manager lavishing coaching and attention on the marginal employee.


Some managers enable these marginal employees by lowering expectations and allowing these staff members to get away with being less productive. Other staff members may be forced to pick up the slack. These individuals will resent both the under-performing employee and the manager.


Sometimes employees are performing at least reasonably well but the manager does some of work for them. This is often because the manager is unwilling to relinquish control over a project. Some managers may be compensating for making a bad hiring decision and are now carrying part of an under-performing staff members work to make sure it gets done.

Openly negative employees


Some employees, both top performers and marginal ones, may have developed strongly negative attitudes or pessimistic. During the recession, this negativity permeated a workplace reducing morale and productivity. This negativity can persist even when business and the employment environment improve as they are now. While it’s natural for employees to occasionally gripe about the workplace, their manager, and coworkers, it shouldn’t become a habit. The manager should sit down with these negative employees and discuss their behavior as soon as they become aware of it. Emphasize the harmful effects of the negative attitudes. Let them know you won’t tolerate it and it will affect their performance review and thus their next raise and their chances of promotion.