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Company Background:

We are a small logistics provider in Europe. A few months ago there's been a change in management and now I'm in charge. I've been with the company for over 5 years and quite young. The previous manager was on the job for over 10 years.

Employee in Question:

Has been with the company for over 10 years. He's old to the point that it'd be a challenge to find a new job.

Problematic Behaviour:

He's constantly in a bad mood due to personal issues. (Relationships / Drugs / Depression(?) / Poverty)

He's not interested in being a part of the team. Doesn't take part in team activities. Dislikes eating lunch together and when he does sit down with the rest never makes conversation, instead checking his phone or solving crossword puzzles.

He just does just a bit less than the bare minimum on the job, which creates work for everyone else. Also totally unacceptable from a buisness perspective.

Every now and then, he's late, which is an absolute no-go in our line of work.

He's very open about his emotional pain, loudly playing love songs in the office, which annoys people.

What's been tried

The previous manager had ongoing talks with him about improvement (for years). I've had two sit-downs with him so far. He improved after the first one, went on holiday after the second one and since he came back 2 months ago it's been the worst it's ever been, that I know of. I don't know if telling him to seek professional help for improving his mental health has been tried. I do suspect he'd never go to therapy, and he doesn't have the money for it.

Tricky situation

I like him personally. Before being a manager, I even had some fun slacking off a bit with him while at work. (I'm all for having a laugh and taking it easy, as long as the performance is there when it's needed)

He has his good days (not so often anymore), where everything's fine and he's a pleasure to work with.

He's impulsive and sometimes angry, but at every one-on-one he's very understanding and promises improvement. It just never lasts.

He'd be best of looking for a new job at which he can stay until retirement. Our pay is less than good and the job requires a certain fitness. Every month/year he waits with looking for a new job decreases his chances of getting one. He knows this yet does nothing.

He says he likes working here and says he's got another 3 to 5 years in him.

What now?

I fear talking to him hoping for improvement just doesn't work.

I can't threaten to fire him, because I couldn't go through with it.

Any answer, comment or suggestion is much appreciated, as I really don't know what to do at this point.

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    "I can't threaten to fire him, because I couldn't go through with it." - Then you need to re-assess if you have what it takes to be a manager, and re-assess if he's doing what the job involves. Either you won't deal with it and he'll carry on regardless, or you will and utimately that ends with firing him if nothing else works. If he's doing 'enough' on the job, you can't fire him for failing to do so. – djsmiley2k - CoW Sep 19 '18 at 19:36
  • Thanks. My emotions aside, firing him would hit him hard, and he's in a position to do a lot of damage to the company. – throwthisaway Sep 19 '18 at 19:40
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    @throwthisaway Then you need to start managing things so that he can't do damage to the company – user151019 Sep 19 '18 at 19:54
  • Have you thought of buying him out? Forcing an early retirement if it's unreasonable fit to fire him maybe one of the option for you. – Isaiah3015 Sep 19 '18 at 20:39
  • @JoeStrazzere 1) I know... :) 2) He likes working here and isn't willing to put in any effort for searching 3) kind of, but won't that decrease his motivation further? 4) hmm, that could be an option. – throwthisaway Sep 19 '18 at 20:55
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The employee doesn't have an unfixable problem or even a particularly important one. They're just lazy, tardy and inefficient with a bad work ethic and an entitlement issue.

You do, you're procrastinating and rationalising to the detriment of the company and team, you're failing in your role if you refuse to discipline when it's clearly warranted.

Management often comes with more responsibility and hard decisions as well as more money. A good manager takes the money and does the work. A bad manager does exactly what this employee is doing, takes the money and finds personal reasons not to do the job properly.

Bite the bullet, initiate disciplinary action since all else has failed, if no improvement that you judge to be permanent (which is likely), terminate.

  • I agree with everything you say, except "The employee doesn't have an unfixable problem or even a particularly important one. They're just lazy, tardy and inefficient with a bad work ethic and an entitlement issue."; this is pure speculation (unless I misunderstood something). – phresnel Jan 9 at 10:45
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I would say it sounds like you have three problems.

His performance: You state that he does the bare minimum and that is not acceptable. I would argue that it is acceptable. You have minimum performance requirements because that is the minimum requirement to stay employed. He is meeting those requirements. Imagine if I told you that you had to work 40 hours a week and then got mad at you when you worked 40 hours a week because you "only do the minimum". If you believe he can accomplish more, then raise the standards and work with him.

His attendance/tardiness: You should have a performance management policy to address these things. However, if you really are unwilling to fire him, then I don't know how much good that would do.

His mood/annoying his coworkers: This one is tough. If he isn't doing anything that violates company policy, it is hard to address. You can try asking him to stop the things that are annoying the coworkers when you see/hear them happening. At the end of the day, you can't "manage" someones mood.

Overall, my advice is to focus on his performance and the things that he needs to do to improve in that area. You can try to coach him on his behavior at work by trying to help him see how it is impacting his work relationships. Try to leave your personal feelings out of the equation.

  • From the question (emphasis mine): "He just does just a bit less than the bare minimum on the job". – AndyT Sep 20 '18 at 8:15
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It sounds as though you've done everything possible, as have those before you. So there's still a problem, and he's not going to change.

Where's the change going to come from? YOU

If you want to be a manager, you have to be able to have a hard enough heart to fire your own mother, and enough courage to fire your own spouse. (And every married man's blood runs cold at that thought.)

If you can't be that, then there's no answer that can help, here.

  • I'm sure you're right. I know you're right. FWIW, I don't really want to be a manager, I was just the best fit at the time to keep the company from undergoing drastic changes. – throwthisaway Sep 19 '18 at 20:35
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Coming at this from a slightly different perspective:

You have an employee who has obvious mental health issues, yet a) you don't do anything to help him directly, b) you don't provide resources for him to help himself, and c) you don't even give him the assistance he needs to seek resources on his own. What kind of company is this?

Here's the thing: An employee needs to be paid enough to keep themselves afloat, in general. In some particular cases, the employee is happy being paid less because of other interests, as you say this employee is. However, how do you ever hope to attract new talent and new blood if you pay your employees, as you state directly, "less than good"? It should be standard practice in your company to make sure everyone is paid at least "good", if the company hopes to succeed, and maybe with this assistance, this employee will be able to seek treatment. Does the company at the very least provide some sort of health insurance to mitigate the costs of things like counseling? If not, what are the perks of even working at this place? Sounds to me like you're riding a sinking ship and both of you (you and your employee) should look for a new job.

As for what you can do in the meantime, well, you have (or at least think you have) some signs of what might be wrong, specifically blasting love ballads at work. So perhaps his pain might be from being unable to find love. In that case, how about you invite him out to a bar (or some other similar establishment) to try to pick up some girls? In my experience with mental health issues (I've had a few in my time), counseling usually doesn't solve the problem nearly as well as rectifying the circumstance that caused the problem. For example, if I'm homesick, talking about being homesick to a counselor doesn't help nearly as well as just going home for a while. In this case, talking about being lonely or unable to find love isn't going to be as effective as just finding someone so you're not lonely anymore; perhaps helping him do that would be a good first step.

The other solution, of course, would be to just fire him and get it over with, make him someone else's problem. But that solves your problem, not his problem, and whether that is what you want depends heavily on whether that's good enough for you. If you want to be a friend to this employee, you should try to help him solve his problem; if you want to be just a boss, then solving your problem is enough. There is nothing specifically wrong with either stance, it's really about how close you are, or how close you want to be, with this person.

  • Thanks! We've tried helping but he doesn't want any help (other than owing the company interest-free to pay his bills). Wages: margins are tight, but the company is stable and growing. Everyone incl. me gets the same hourly rate. You're right, am going to look into our health insurance. – throwthisaway Sep 19 '18 at 20:52
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    If the company is "stable and growing" but the employees aren't able to make ends meet with their wages ("owing the company interest-free to pay his bills"), I would be inclined to question your definition of "stable" (unless the employee is collosally fiscally irresponsible, which might be another sign of mental illness). But nevertheless, that's mostly beside the point. As for offering him help, perhaps he doesn't want help from the company, but may accept help from you as an individual. Whether you'd like to offer that help is, of course, up to you. – Ertai87 Sep 19 '18 at 20:55
  • We pay more than minimum wage, that's not the problem. – throwthisaway Sep 19 '18 at 20:59
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    I don't know enough about Europe or your locale in particular to know whether "more than minimum wage" is a sufficient heuristic for "not the problem". I can tell you that, in my locale, "more than minimum wage" isn't anywhere close to a good enough heuristic; where I live, you need to make close to double minimum wage to be anywhere close to "not the problem". Keep in mind additionally that counseling is EXPENSIVE (at least in my locale), so what might be "not the problem" for a person without mental health issues could be a big problem for someone with those issues. – Ertai87 Sep 19 '18 at 21:11

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