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If performance palls, look below the surface.

Too many supervisors take the easy road when it comes to dealing with a problem employee. They discipline and eventually terminate the seemingly incorrigible worker. I take pride in being able to salvage a formerly productive employee. Retaining such a worker impresses the rest of the staff while having a positive effect on that individual.

* Root of the problem. Before such a transformation can take place, it is necessary to identify the underlying cause of the declining performance. The best approach is to schedule an informal counseling session in which the barrier between supervisor and subordinate is broken down. You can often get employees to open up if you show genuine concern for their welfare.

The most common problem areas include:

[unkeyable] Supervision. Although part of the supervisory role is to prevent problems, too many supervisors, especially inexperienced ones, create them instead. I have seen difficulties occur at both ends of the supervisory spectrum: the overbearing supervisor with a sweatshop mentality and the easy-going supervisor who would rather be a buddy than a boss.

The overbearing supervisor establishes an atmosphere of fear. The lax supervisor fails to motivate and discipline. The goal in achieving productivity is to stimulate the staff. Earning their respect must usually come first.

[unkeyable] Rules and regulations. All too often, employers institute ambiguous policies and procedures or fail to implement the rules fairly. All policies should be well defined and communicated clearly. The staff, in turn, must recognize that policies and procedures protect their rights as well as those of the employer.

[unkeyable] Changing technology. The highly technical nature of our profession is a double-edged sword. Automation allows us to perform more tests and to do them faster. When highly trained professionals are reduced to button pushers, however, technology may lead to stress, fatigue, and boredom. The result is uneven performance. Restructuring or rotating jobs or transferring employees may help.

[unkeyable] Substance abuse. Most employees won't reveal this dark secret unless and until their backs are against the wall. Few supervisors are qualified to deal with drug abuse. Fortunately, numerous programs are available. One of the best things we can do for these employees is to put them in touch with a professional organization that can help.

[unkeyable] Work environment. In the typical clinical laboratory, especially an older facility, it's obvious that little or no thought has gone into comfort or aesthetics. It is not only essential to provide a safe environment but also incumbent upon employers to expend some effort on ambience. It's hard to motivate employees who work in a crowded, noisy, dirty area that is unpleasant to look at. Poor working conditions have a subtle yet long-lasting effect on workers' perceptions of their jobs.

[unkeyable] Workload. A growing workload and a shrinking staff is a deadly combination. Laboratory utilization continues to spiral, yet positions remain unfilled due to staff shortages and budget cutbacks. Laboratorians are bound to burn out; inevitably, performance suffers. Laboratory managers must convince those who control the pursestrings that diminishing returns are inevitable under such circumstances.

[unkeyable] Personal problems. Employees can't check their personal problems at the door when they come to work. It's easy to be distracted from duties at work when one's thoughts lie elsewhere. The result can be a multitude of errors caused by lack of concentration. In such difficult situations, supervisors should be supportive while encouraging workers to focus on the job at hand.

* Iceberg. Poor performance represents only the obvious part of an underlying problem. The solution begins with uncovering the causes. Unless we learn to navigate in choppy seas, that tip of the iceberg may sink our ship.

The author is administrator of clinical laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pa.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:618
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