How your staff can drive you mad
When the pressure's on, here are sure-fire ways your charges can make you see red.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( Everyone knows it's hard having difficult or dim-witted bosses. But it's just as hard managing dud employees who run the gamut from aggravating to useless.

They make your job harder and your blood pressure higher. Consider these common scenarios from the managerial trenches:

Smarmy with a smile: It's so hard to reprimand employees who have shirked their duties when they claim to have no idea that you wanted something.

Oh, they remember the conversation where you know you said quite clearly what you wanted. But at no time in their minds did you convey specifically what that something was. They would have been happy to do what you now say you wanted. And they certainly agree it should be done. So there's no need to get upset, really. Ooh, is it 5? They've got to run.

So nice, so inefficient: Affable charges who repeatedly make innocent mistakes aren't as infuriating as the smarmy smilers, but they can be mildly crazy-making.

For example, one former manager of a very friendly designer would "ask for something and it would come with a typo. So you'd send it back and then it would come with the right text, but be the wrong color. So you'd send it back, and then it would come with the right text and color, but be the wrong size."

They come, they breathe, they leave: That same manager had a freelancer who "worked all day in silence on a project, then left at 5 p.m. without telling anyone, knowing the work was due by the end of the day. The work was terrible and I had to start from scratch, staying until 6 a.m."

Professional blood sucker: Given how heartless companies can be, you can't blame some workers for adopting a Me, Inc. ethic. But when Me, Inc. requires You, Inc. to devote your time to mollifying other employees who resent that person's unwillingness to be a team player, you've got morale problems. Said one boss: "There are two types of people: those who give oxygen and those who take it away from everyone else."

Lazy daisy with attitude: One employee, whose job required her to know how to send faxes from her computer, never bothered learning how. Desperate to get a fax out one Friday night, she asked a manager to help. When the manager, after successfully sending the fax, told the employee she really should learn how to do it herself, she replied, " 'Shoulds' don't get the job done."

Doing their part to support the economy: When confronted with employees who shop during work hours, one manager's thought bubble usually goes like this: "I'm glad you found the cutest sweater at Now please do the rest of your holiday shopping on your own time. The same goes for updating your Netflix selections or Amazon Wishlist."

On their 19th nervous breakdown: Everyone has personal crises and managers do make allowances for them. But some employees are masters of the five-alarm crisis one alarm for every day of the week. They come in late, leave early or take long lunches to "deal" with things. They're really, really sorry ... all year long.

Or they tend to personal fires right at their desk. Said one manager: "Fights with boyfriends/girlfriends/parents over the phone seem to be the curse of Gen Y. These legions of young workers who are accustomed to answering their cell phones in stores or on the street and letting fly with the most intimate details haven't yet figured out the cubicles are not actually private."

What can you do?

Putting an end to behavior that drives you up a tree takes some strategizing.

If your employee is really clueless about what's appropriate professional behavior, you might make an effort to educate the employee about how his or her behavior affects the company's success and how the company's success or lack of it -- will affect them, said Marilyn Pincus, author of "Managing Difficult People: A Survival Guide For Handling Any Employee."

"Attempt to educate them about what's in it for them," Pincus said. You might note, for instance, that when a company underperforms, shorter hours or job cutbacks may be in the offing.

That's a type of carrot, though, that won't work with the kind of employee who is clearly trying to take advantage, said workplace advisor and former human-resources executive Cynthia Shapiro.

These employees are all the more noxious when you sense they're itching for a reason to sue the company.

In that case, make sure to write them follow-up memos to every conversation you have and write down everything about their performance for your files, Shapiro said.

But whether you're dealing with clueless or cunning employees who abuse your goodwill, spell out what you expect from them and be clear about what the consequences will be if they don't deliver, Shapiro said. "If you're clear enough and enact the consequences when you say you will, that will eliminate the problem. It works like a charm."


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