Star Worker Loses Motivation

Dear Coach,

I enjoyed reading your letter to the person on the job 20 months and unhappy because their manager supervised them closely and they were not being advanced more quickly. It made me wonder about a problem I’m having with one of my workers.

When I hired him, he confided that he had applied at 40 other companies and was grateful to get a job. I wondered why others had not hired him but he seemed bright and energetic as well as physically strong – a combination I need for my shop.

Originally I thought he was a great “hire”. He showed up early, learned the work and got along with his co—workers. His suggestions worked and he often did special projects to benefit the whole shop. He got his small hourly raise for learning the basics and when he stayed late after clocking out, I’d slip him a ten.

About month four I noticed problems with some of the routine jobs where he did the work alone. A customer complained, and I started checking his work before telling customers it was done. 

Finally, I realized that he rushed routine things so he could do those that made him “special”. When I’m more in the office than the shop, his work is especially sloppy.

I stopped letting him do the extra things he proposed and started making him fix his errors and sure enough – the shine on his star began to fade. December is his sixth month and his original enthusiasm is history. Also – I have caught the other guys laughing at him and notice he smokes by himself at break.

The economy has not affected us, the shop is busier than ever and I need him to do his job. I miss the extra things he did and I’m dreading what to do with him at bonus time. While the rest of the crew has certainly earned theirs, I will begrudge him his.

Also he’s been asking when his next raise is due and laying on the pressure because his girlfriend is about to drop Baby No. 2. 

Ideas? Sign me –

- Fresh out

Dear Fresh,

Sounds to me like you are not the only person in this scenario feeling stuck. It strikes me that your former shining star is most motivated by variety and when he can gain recognition for being creative. Instead your shop handles a lot of similar jobs and has built its reputation on doing each one right the first time.

I do not see a good match.

And – you are not doing him any favors (new baby or not) by keeping him in his current job. However, I suspect that you like this young man and hoped to foster his potential. I applaud your inclination to mentor but such support can be hands on or catalytic.

Both your firm and your employee will be best served by dealing with the mismatch straight forwardly and talking positively but plainly to him about his future.

I’d open the discussion with a short and specific description of the difference between what the shop needs and his performance. While the upshot here is that your job is not right for him, you’ll stay more productive by taking the approach that his talents are not being utilized.

You don’t say what kind of jobs he held previously but the fact that he applied at so many companies indicates that he has not found a line of work that he enjoys for its own sake. You might continue by asking what he always wanted to do and exploring what stopped him.

At this point, your options open.

Depending on your assessment of his capacity to commit and the extent to which analysis indicates your company might profit, either (catalytically) liberate him to find his true career elsewhere or offer him a bridge into that career (fulfill your inclination to mentor).

While you recruit his replacement, could you offer him fewer hours in the shop in exchange for work done to standard and proof that he is researching a trade school or apprenticeship program? (Point him at your local One Stop for starters.)

Once the shop is fully staffed, would your company’s earning capacity or profitability be enhanced by a few months of part-time help with “special Projects”? Etcetera – just be careful your heart does not overshadow your judgement – is this young man mature enough to appreciate such an opportunity and do a good job for you?

Finally – bonuses. I’m unclear whether you split a bonus “pie” evenly among staff or give bonuses based on contribution. Hopefully it’s the latter but if not and he is still there at bonus time, give him his share and consider it your catalyst to revise your bonus program.

- Sylvia