November 2004 Edition
Dealing with Difficult Employees Part Two

The Unwilling Employee

In the foodservice industry it has always been a challenge to recruit and retain competent employees. High quality employees can walk out the door and find another job the very same day, so if you have a "my way or the highway" management style, you may lose valuable employees.

The solution to this industry dilemma starts with asking why employees don’t do what we want or expect them to do. Usually it is one of two reasons: they are unable, or they are unwilling.

In Part One of Dealing with Difficult Employees we discussed employees who are unable to do what is required to satisfactorily perform their job, and we examined possible causes, and effective solutions including task analysis which clearly spells out job requirements.

Dealing with the Unwilling employee poses a much greater challenge. Behaviour modification for this type of employee often requires a series of escalating steps leading to improvement or termination. The key to success is the ability to define the problem behaviour.

All of us are put off by poor attitudes. Unfortunately we cannot fix personality traits, we can only fix job behaviours, and to define the problem we have to be specific. Subjective judgements are not correctable - simply asking an employee to "pick up the pace" would be ineffective. However, asking an employee to prepare a minimum of 15 salads per hour is an objective, measurable performance goal.

In Part One of Dealing with Difficult Employees we discussed job descriptions and the effective use of task analysis to spell out job requirements. A good task analysis becomes a performance standard and provides employees with guidelines - they know what is expected of them and how performance will be measured.

To be effective, a manager must be able to separate job behaviour from attitudes or personality traits. For example, if an employee spends too much time talking to friends (customers that he likes) and is always late setting up the salad bar and does not seem concerned whether the salad bar opens on time or not, we would say he has a "bad attitude."

However the job behaviour to fix is not the "bad attitude." The job behaviour that needs to be fixed is the late salad bar. The employee must set up the salad bar by 11:00 a.m. every day, and if the employee can talk with his customer friends and still get the salad bar properly set up by 11:00 a.m. then everyone will be happy.

The next step in the repair process is to put the employee on notice that the salad bar must be set up by 11:00 a.m. and ask him why this is not being done. Let the employee talk and listen carefully.

Does he have valid reasons for being late or does he accept your judgement? If he has valid reasons he must be given the tools he needs to perform up to standard or you must adjust the standard to be more realistic.

If there are no excuses for the substandard performance then the first step is to negotiate with the employee.

In today's world job threats are not effective, employee turnover carries a very high cost and the field of qualified replacement candidates is shrinking. It can be difficult to measure the damage to our business when we run shorthand while replacements are being recruited and trained. At a minimum we should at least consider the strain on remaining employees, the added stress on management, and the effect on customers caused by a diminished dining experience.

The ultimate goal in dealing with difficult employees is to get the job done properly and have happy employees.

In the hospitality industry we cannot afford to have worker dissatisfaction spill over to our customers. ¨ In the next issue we will discuss Successful Negotiation.

Contributed by Tepper Kalmar Associates, Operational Consulting and Training for the Foodservice Industry, Emeryville, CA. For further information, call 510-655-0936 or visit us on the web at We welcome Canadian inquiries.