Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reader Advice: Dealing with a Slacker

From the Mailbag:
Dear Director,

I recently started a new job. The new company is relatively small and employs a global "out of the office" mailing list. I noticed through this function that the technical writer slotted for my team has been out of the office "sick" or "leaving at 10 to go to the doctor" very frequently (for all day appointments?)

Two weeks ago, following a bunch of "out sicks," he was going to be out three days for a company paid-for training class, which he made for all three days. Last week, two of his "leaving early/out sick" messages came in time-stamped about 7:35 a.m., which means that he was at the office early and I missed seeing him by about 25 minutes.

Although he could theoretically be on some kind of funky flex time, this reminded me of the WSJ article a couple of years ago that talked about slackers using technology to simulate their actually being in the office without showing up. (The simple form is leaving a set of keys and a wallet on your desk). So this email could have been set up the day before to go out that morning or done remotely.

This guy doesn't report to me (though his boss has been out often lately sick, too), nor do I have any visibility into anything he's produced to bolster confidence in his ability to deliver. As often as the guy's out, I'd expect he has been battling ebola or something else I don't want to catch. However, since he was healthy enough to make it to his training class, I think he may be a slacker.

I'm new, and don't have a sense for the politics, but my project is about to kick off and his chronic absenteeism is a risk that I don't want to bear without adequate ass-coverage. Any suggestions on how to best position this?
According to my copy of the Sith Manager Desk Reference, the technique for dealing with slackerism, absenteeism, or any other sort of ism is to use the Force to crush his trachea. However, your new company may not subscribe to this management technique, and it usually annoys the people in HR.

My recommendation is to set a meeting with him in one of the times he is in the office and not contagious. Discuss your program, the timeframe, his responsibilities on the program, what you expect of him, and what his deadlines are. Give him all of this in writing. Then follow up with him on some sort of regular basis - at least weekly - once your project begins, tracking his progress and how he is keeping up with his deliverables. Keep meeting notes of the initial meeting and all subsequent followups.

The hope is that all this officialness will get his ass in gear - at least for your program. Best case you incentivize him to do his job. Worse case you have a paper trail for nailing his ass/covering yours should things not go well.

Since you are new and have no history on what this guy really does, you really don't have a lot of other options. I wouldn't elevate it in your position since your complaints/concerns may seem like whining since you don't know what this guy's reputation is yet within the organization (maybe his management knows he is a slacker, but they could think he is awesome - I have seen stranger things in business).

Any other advice out there?

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