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David FullerJan was on the verge of tears as we discussed the challenges with her team.

“It doesn’t matter how many times I ask Sylvia to get the work done, she always has an excuse for why she can’t deliver,” she said. “On top of that, she doesn’t want to come into the office and wants to continue to work from home. What can I do?”

While keeping employees accountable has always been a challenge for some leaders, the cry for help from managers in the public sector is growing with the realization that as the pandemic lockdowns continue, accountability is slipping in government-funded workplaces.

Mental health concerns have exacerbated the issue, as has the fact that some sectors of the workforce believe they have a right to work from home and that work production is optional.

This isn’t reflective of all employees working at home or all public sector employees. There are some extremely productive and highly engaged people who are working from home and making a substantial difference for their organizations.

However, the animosity between the private sector and government-funded organizations has grown. Workers in the private sector wonder why employees in the government sector are able to work from home while employees of privately-owned companies have to arrive at work every day.

Some government workers are upset, believing people going to work are risking the health of the general population.

I overheard a conversation recently between two publicly-funded employees expressing surprise at the busyness of the world outside their home offices after they ventured into their community mid-day.

What do you do if you’re working with people who believe they’re entitled and lack accountability?

As Jan expressed, the frustration leaders feel when their team members don’t measure up to their expectations is considerable. When employees decide that their vision for their job supersedes that of the employer, there’s a problem. In such cases, managers need to tighten the screws and demand that employees step up.

While most managers want to be liked, it’s conflict situations like this that determine if a manager will be respected. Being liked will happen if the leader can relate to the employees. However, without respect, managers lose their ability to do their job.

In situations like this, it might be best for Jan to tackle the situation in four parts:

Acknowledge how she’s feeling about the issue, name it and let the employee know.

Jan might say something like, “Sylvia, I’m feeling considerable stress as a result of our conversation and the fact that you’re not getting your work done.”

Speak to how the issue is affecting the workplace, organization or team.

Jan might ask, “Sylvia what do you think happens when your work doesn’t get done when you said it would?”

Or say, more specifically, “We promised to have that project completed by Friday, it’s now Tuesday and you still don’t have the report you said you would have. Our team is looking pretty inadequate to our client.”

Determine what actions need to be taken.

At this point Jan could ask Sylvia what actions she thinks will be needed to ensure this doesn’t happen or, based on Sylvia’s history, identify some specific actions that will be taken. This might include:

  • future work being reported at accountability meetings in stages moving forward;
  • Sylvia specifying what would need to happen for her to return to the office;
  • Jan deciding that she’s going to write up an incident report concerning Sylvia.

Followup after you determine a course of action.

Setting a date for followup and keeping that date ensures that employees understand the severity of the issue and work-related expectations.

Jan will need to continue to work with Sylvia to improve performance if she expects to reduce her stress load.

While the pandemic has added additional stress loads to management, the basics remain the same. Employees want to be productive and want to be successful. They want to be recognized for what they accomplish and have meaningful employment that fulfils them.

When we fail to hold our employees and our organizations accountable to the goals that have been set, using the pandemic as an excuse, we’re failing in our role as leaders.

 Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. Need to be held accountable? Email dave@pivotleader.com

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lockdowns, challenges, work

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