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A friend of mine is supervising a team of three people. One of those three is a foreigner who is a source of her daily frustration. My supervisor friend describes that employee as follows:

  • Generally: lazy, entitled, unprofessional, dishonest and very demanding for benefits;
  • Example 1: she asked to come back to her home country to renew her passport during the Christmas holidays, which is not true because I know for sure you can renew your passport at the embassy. She then delayed her return by two weeks, giving a one day notice, and asked to work from home (which is generally not practised at that company). She claimed that this is because the passport renewal takes longer than expected
  • Example 2: She consistently fails on the technical side of simple administrative tasks, e.g. overwriting other people's work.
  • Example 3: She doesn't have much work to do, but asked to work on weekends just simply to earn more paid vacation days.
  • Example 4: She is rude and unprofessional on emails. If there are multiple questions on the email, she would answer just one, or won't give a straight answer.

So that supervisor friend of mine approached that employee multiple times, asking to be more careful, pointing out her mistakes at the performance review, referring her to the rules etc. The employee gets extremely defensive, angry, and won't take the criticism. She first tried a strict approach ("you have to..."), then she tried a softer approach ("it would be better for you if..."). Neither helped.

From my work, I know that the supervisor is a highly trustworthy person with the best work ethic I've seen. So I believe her story.

Now, usually consistent negative feedback (recorded in performance reviews) and not appearing at work for weeks would be a good reason for termination.

However, the higher-level manager, while she agrees with negative feedback, says it is extremely difficult to find a replacement (the employee is Russian, and that position requires someone Russian-speaking). This is true and took months last time. So the manager also begs my supervisor friend not to be too hard on that employee.

Question:

What can my supervisor friend do to impove that situation and her daily frustration about it?

Context:

  • The company is a Fortune 500 MNC.
  • The location is Hong Kong, meaning that some people would try to avoid direct and open confrontation.
  • All people involved are aged 25-35.
  • The department is doing backoffice paperwork processing.
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    Is there any reason not to start looking for a replacement now and firing the other employee when you find one? That means the problem will be fixed in a few months. – Erik Jan 19 '18 at 8:32
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    The manager of my supervisor friend is against that because literally everyone is subscribed to the local jobs site and she will see that she is being replaced right away. This is true, but may also have something to do with the manager and HR being a bit lazy and complacent, preferring not to poke the bear. – K48 Jan 19 '18 at 8:52
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    @K48 that is only the problem if having this employee on payroll is still cheaper/more beneficial than not having her around. Given that employee in question causes her peers to do additional work (re-adding overwritten work, re-asking ignored questions etc.) and goes for company pocket (earning paid vacation by doing things that nobody needs), that might not be a case. Finally, your friend has hard time cooperating with this employee, but what about other team members? Low morale cause real loss for company, even if hard to quantify. – Mirosław Zalewski Jan 19 '18 at 9:09
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    They could say to the worker that they are going to hire another Russian speaking employee and put advertisements out for the position. Say they will help with the workload so you don't have to work weekends. It might cause the worker to sort themselves out before anyone gets hired, and if they don't your friend is already finding a replacement. Also you don't need to advertise for the position locally, if you are a big name multinational business people from further away my travel or relocate for this position. – Ginger Squirrel Jan 19 '18 at 10:16
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    "the employee is Russian, and that position requires someone Russian-speaking" If speaking Russian is the main qualification fro the position, going to the trouble of finding a replacement will not bring any benefit to the company. "She doesn't have much work to do" So what's the big problem with her absence besides perceived injustice? – pmf Jan 19 '18 at 10:27
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this is going to sound harsh but I think your "friend" needs to start acting like a boss.

"Can I work from home while I am stuck in home country renewing my passport?" Answer = NO. Then deduct the missed days from future vacation or reduce pay accordingly.

"I want to work weekends" Answer = NO.

If this manager is simply capitulating to every request, no matter how kooky, how can you honestly expect this person to not make kooky requests in the future? They've discovered this works so...

I also want to point out that it is easy to blame all of this behavior on the fact that this person is foreign, but your assumption is not working in both directions. Consider that it is possible that this person, simply because they are not familiar with your culture, is behaving in a way that you take to be "rude" when in fact it is simply a cultural difference. It is also very possible that this person feels very uncomfortable for not understanding what is expected in this new environment, and that can lead to defensiveness.

Answer = be a boss and explain the problem to them, and clearly outline what is expected. Set realistic and measurable goals for improvement and stick to it.

There are few things less effective than telling an employee that they are a problem, but not giving them clear and explicit feedback for how you expect them to behave/perform in the future. In addition, framing it as "this is what is required" is very different than using the "you have to" or even the "you should" approach. It may appear subtle but note the missing word here is "you". Reframing it in this impersonal manner can really help reduce defensiveness as it's just a statement of fact, and less likely to feel like an attack.

And if there is no improvement, replace them.

  • I am going to upvote this because you point out the potential cultural differences. Cultural differences can be as mild as, a difference in how it can be perceived to arrive late to a meeting, in certain parts of the world it's culturally accepted that arriving late to a meeting isn't a big deal. In other parts of the world, if you are not early to the meeting, then you are actually considered late to the meeting. Yet in other parts of the world, the meeting starts when the meeting was scheduled, so you're expected to make adjustments to be there "on-time". – Ramhound Jan 19 '18 at 15:18
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    What it basically means is that supervisor must make it clear, what will be culturally accepted in the company, and any other behavior will not be acceptable. If that unacceptable behavior continues, then the supervisor must take all available actions, each and every time that unacceptable behavior happens. However, this unacceptable behavior must be enforced in an unbias way, no matter who breaks away from the mold. – Ramhound Jan 19 '18 at 15:22
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There's not much you can do except for continue doing your own job as effectively as you can do.

This woman obviously knows that she's safe in her job because replacing her is difficult. It might be worth exploring whether her key tasks can be performed in some other way (out-sourcing, for example) thereby making her redundant.

You can then allow the performance reviews to outline an outcome. Unfortunately, your company has allowed this behaviour to continue for some time, so suddenly letting her go for things she's been allowed to do for some time might be difficult to defend.

In short, out-source the specific work that she does, and allow the performance/disciplinary process to do it's work. It's possible that side-lining her work might cause her to leave anyway.

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IF the manager has what he or she needs to fire the person, the he or she should simply start looking for the replacement now. Once you have hired a replacement, then you can fire the other person. Discuss with HR the best way to go about this.

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It seems your manager and the company have allowed a double-standard in accountability and other things between most employees and this particular employee. You reap what you sow... and you are not the manager; your manager is. Your manager has this problem because s/he has chosen to apply a double standard --something a good manager wouldn't have done because it shows partiality/favoritism.

As Snow said, there's not much you can do, and it's not your job to do it. There's not much to this. Your manager friend should hold everyone to the same standards, including general behavior, professionalism, level of accountability, and so on.

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