Employees Don’t Do As They Are Told

Question  to Ask the Workplace Doctors about following orders: The two girls that work the front desk in our office, are always saying they didn’t do something because they are too “busy”.

The two girls that work the front desk in our office, are always saying they didn’t do something because they are too “busy”. This has become the main excuse for every task that they have. The general office manager and I (front office manager) had sent a memo from the doctor to all the offices. Instead of having everyone read and sign their names the girls in one particular office signed over all the blocks with “we are too busy for this”.

As soon as I saw it, I showed it to the GOM and we were both pretty upset by this. She told me not to say or do anything about it just yet. It has been weeks now and nothing has been addressed about it.I feel as if this is really important and it is just being dropped. I am not looking for anyone to necessarily get in trouble but I do think something needs to be said about it.

How do you suggest handling this situation? I am fairly new to being their front office manager, so I guess they do not respect me or my position as much as they should. I have told them before that I am not there to make friends so if someone doesn’t like me that really doesn’t bother me, but we would all be pretty miserable if we couldn’t get along and work together.I don’t know if that is a bad attitude to have, but it really is how I feel! I spend so much time trying to think of ways to make their job easier and still efficient, and I know that they don’t (and shouldn’t) know that but I want them to respect me. Help!!

Signed, Desperate For Answers

Dear Desperate For Answers:

Your question ties in with another of yours to which we responded–but points to some of the same problems. You and your GOM must be of a like mind on what is acceptable work as to quantity and quality and what is not. And what is acceptable as a way to reply to a request for work and what is not. Until that happens the employees who are, in your view, creating problems, will continue to do so. They have no incentive to do otherwise–except their own work ethic and goodwill–which seems to be weakening.

The fact that an employee was allowed to sign over a request with a rude statement but nothing was done, pretty much says nothing will EVER be done. (You may want to consider if there are other offices where, now that you have some experience as a manager, you would like to go.) Before I suggest some ways that might help you, the employees and the GOM work together for a better office, let me mention two statements you made. One is that you have told them you don’t care if you are friends, your job is to get work done. The other is the idea that the employees don’t need to know how much you have done to help them.

I think both of those approaches have created some issues for you, based on other information you have provided (not included here).

1. When we tell someone “I don’t care if you like me or not” we imply that WE don’t like THEM and we’re probably going to do things to make them unhappy. It certainly doesn’t sound as though we respect THEM, so no wonder it gets a bad result.Besides, all of us DO care if people like us, at some level. In your case, you spend vast amounts of time trying to improve things for employees and I don’t believe that’s all motivated only by a desire to be more productive.Whether you feel that way or not, you’ll be more effective if you don’t make those statements. The reverse would also be true, “I want you to like me and I don’t know why you seem to hate me.” That wouldn’t be effective either.Far better to manage based on what the business needs, the doctors need, the GOM has decreed and what policies and procedures require, rather than your personal preferences or based on friendship or lack of it. Be as courteous to them as you want them to be to you. You can be courteous, concerned and caring without making it based on friendship or lack of it.

2. Your statement about employees not knowing what you do to make work better for them is also one of those that many supervisors say, but that weakens their position with employees. I often mention the three requirements for having influence: 1.) Be credible. 2.) Be valuable. 3.) Communicate effectively.Don’t hide anything that can add to the perception that you have value. But be sure it DOES have value. For example, you try very hard to make the work of employees more efficient–but they resent it.

Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t help or it doesn’t help enough to make them like having you impose your will on them.To use the assembly line question, “How many widgets an hour more will make this trouble worth it?” You don’t have to make a big deal about what you’ve done for the employees, but you can use the words that show you are trying. “I talked to the GOM about this and she agreed to buy the new computer.” “I checked a dozen catalogs and finally found this shelf.” “That will take some time, but give me today and I’ll get back to you tomorrow about it.” It also is worthwhile to decide what employees DO value. Most of us value our autonomy at work and we value having our work appreciated. It sounds as though the employees in your offices have had their independence of action reduced because you think they are not doing work the right way. That’s a double whammy! So, those two phrases you mentioned are ones you should consider as perhaps creating problems for you–which you certainly don’t need! Now to the bigger picture: It seems that some, if not most, of the employees are pushing back about almost everything. Given the overall situation of the kind of offices you work in and the way things have occurred, that isn’t surprising, sad to say. There are jealousies, rivalry and egos involved and an apparent lack of support from your GOM. I mentioned in another response to you that your first step should be to find out what your GOM wants done and if she agrees with the actions you’re taking. Here is one way to structure that conversation or an email to her in which she could take her time to respond: What is it you’d like for me to keep doing exactly the same? What do you think I need to do more of? What should I do less of? Is there anything you think I should never do again? Also, consider this as a way to think of the work of the offices (or even to discuss it with the GOM). Instead of starting with a list of things to be done, start with the description of a smoothly working, professionally appropriate office. Then revaluate your current processes in light of those things. You may find some standard tasks aren’t required so often and that some tasks need to be added or done more frequently. Rather than get input from employees, if that doesn’t seem workable, ask them to look at the list and let you know if there is anything on the list that shouldn’t be done and to let you know why so you and the GOM can consider it, as well as letting you know if there are things that need to be added. And, really be willing to listen.

Finally, consider this for right now. It sounds to me, based on other correspondence, that you are working like crazy to manage things the right way.The employees, who probably don’t like having any manager at all, resent it that a former peer is now telling them what to do incessantly. Try backing off a bit for a few weeks, to give yourself time to work with the GOM and re-establish yourself. If something has been neglected that is crucial for the business you will have to intervene. But for now, assume the tasks are being done that should be done.You accomplish two things by doing that. 1.) Perhaps by giving them some breathing room you’ll find they do the work correctly. 2.) If they don’t do the work correctly, your GOM will become aware that they have only done the right thing because you insisted and she will have learned more about their dependability and trustworthiness.That may not be workable in your situation, but it is something to consider.You have mentioned that you can’t get by the offices often. Try setting up a schedule of visits. Avoid unannounced visits except in unusual circumstances, at least at first. Let them know at the beginning of the week when you’ll be there and don’t call ahead of the immediate time. That sounds like you’re warning them. Consider bringing something they need–supplies, samples or materials perhaps. If there are things you are expected to check, let them know. Otherwise, just chat, ask about concerns, and ask to have things done that have not been done as required.In most cases you can use a confidential tone, “Hey, Jan, do me a favor and get that closet reorganized will you?” “Oooh, guys, the waiting area needs some work. I’ll help but let’s get it tidied up right now.” “Lisa, that box needs to be unpacked and inventoried. When can you get that done?”Then, when you leave, give a thank you to everyone. “Thanks so much for your work. I know the doctors appreciate it and so do Alicia and I.”It may be that after you close the door they gripe and complain, but that doesn’t mean they dislike you or even that they don’t agree with the things you’ve asked them to do.

I’ve decided complaining is just part of the work life of many people and it doesn’t often mean much.Whatever you do, it seems certain that the current methods aren’t working well for you. So, something has to change.The first thing is the relationship of you and your GOM. The next is the expectations she and you establish for retaining employment. The third may be to remind some employees that they are hired to do what is requested not what they choose to do. Then, perhaps you will need to replace them with employees who understand that management is not a personal affront to them.Hopefully it won’t come to that, but given my knowledge of that type of office it wouldn’t be surprising.Remember the thought that sometimes less is more. You’ve tried a lot of managing, now try a bit less of that and increase the level of self-responsibility on the part employees if that is possible given the situation.One final thought:

You mentioned that specific situation of employees being too busy to do work. You can bet all of the employees collaborate on those issues! One of the key words when an employee doesn’t get work done is, “Instead”. What did they do instead of the required work? What work can they stop doing so they can do the required work instead? What priorities were placed on work and what should the priorities be instead? How fast or efficiently were they doing other work and how should they do it instead?If every spare moment is spent working, that is one thing. But, if there are idle moments there is time to do work that is needed. But the key to this is once again….what will happen if they don’t do it? Sadly, the time is probably past for anything to do be done about the blocks signed over with “too busy.” That should have been stopped immediately. I’m sure the employees got a good smirk out of that one! But, without a GOM who is willing to back you up, you are unable to improve that behavior except through your personal influence. (That’s why the things I’ve mentioned above are important.)When you talk to your GOM consider using that as an example of how the employees are managing the managers and see if she can be made to realize how harmful that has become, not just for you and her but for the business.

Essentially something the doctors said was needed was not done. What is the purpose of having a manager if that is the case?So, I feel frustrated on your behalf, but also think there are ways you can re-think some aspects of the situation and perhaps take some other approaches.If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops with this. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.