I often see posts and articles that focus on how a company should take care of its employees; they are to be nurtured, encouraged, and trusted. This is an ideology that I completely support and practice. However, there are inevitably some employees who masterfully take advantage of their employers, and even co-workers. So how does a business recognize and manage employees, even the “best” employees, who manipulate a flexible work culture for only their own benefit?
Recognize the simple signs of being taken advantage of.
It usually begins with seemingly innocent and unrelated occurrences. In a reasonable work environment, it’s not a big deal to be a little late here and there. But when here and there turns into three days a week, which turns into every day, it’s time to intervene. The same thing applies to the end of the day. Understandably, we all have to leave early every now and again. But advance notice, and the simple, respectful act of asking first, should be expected from your employee. And again, if the employee’s need to leave early becomes habitual, have a frank conversation about the root cause.
This also applies to absence; the morning emails and texts. Someone is sick? Completely understandable. But is that same person sick every other week? Or perhaps it’s a lack of child care. It happens. But does it happen often? Does it seem to always happen after a long weekend? Be aware of emerging patterns. Communicate any concerns you have over what seem like excessive absences, or absences that seem to occur in repeating sequences. Gain an understanding of what’s causing the excuses for not showing up to work, or at least gain the ability to predict them based on past behavior. A bigger conversation may be warranted.
Be wary of requests made by employees with a history of habitual tardiness or absences.
A good employee typically works hard and has reasonable expectations from an employer. It’s reciprocal and benefits both parties. There are also, however, those high-maintenance employees who tend to push harder for what they want, regardless of what is best—or even just least detrimental—for the business. These employees typically produce above-average work; and, if so, they know it and they have no problem letting you know they know it. As a manager or business owner, you naturally want to hold on to your heavy hitters and work to accommodate their needs. But is the heavy hitter also a high-maintenance employee? Are they late for work often? Do they need to leave early more than other employees? Is there a history of excessive excuses for being absent? Consider these things when said employee wants to discuss alternate work arrangements. Said arrangements would likely benefit them but not the company. Before you approve any such arrangements, THINK IT THROUGH.
Example: you receive a request from an above-described employee to discuss the possibility of telecommuting. As opposed to a more productive day, it may very well result in delayed email responses, calls that go to voicemail, and work that doesn’t get turned in on time. Now the manager not only has to deal with an employee who is consistently tardy or absent, but in addition has to monitor and hound the employee to simply just do their job. What seems like a simple, reasonable compromise that you make as a manager may actually result in a more complicated situation. Is this employee really working, or are they just checking their work inbox in between personal errands? Who knows? But now it’s up to you to find out. Yet again, another conversation to be had.
Your other employees are your best barometer.
People talk. Listen. If having a candid conversation isn’t possible (co-workers of manipulative employees often hold back on speaking freely, especially when the employee in question is higher-ranking), keep your eyes open. People don’t always speak with their voices, but instead it’s “the look” or “the sigh.” No matter how valuable you may think your top-notch employee is to the company, they’re most likely not worth ruining a well-cultivated company culture. Nor are they worth losing other employees who also produce good work, but are grateful and respectful of the company’s policies and values.
Don’t be afraid to let go.
Protect your company’s culture. It succeeds when it works for both your employees AND for your business. Should you find yourself scratching your head, asking “am I being taken advantage of,” you probably are. High-maintenance employees, who manipulate the systems you have in place, also tend to be egotistical and believe that they are irreplaceable. They aren’t, so don’t be afraid to let go.