We’ve all come across ‘coasters’. People who are only doing just enough to get by: who lack enthusiasm, who are unwilling to change their routine, who push their lunch ‘hour’ as far as it will go and spend their day ‘riding it out’ till the clock strikes five.
These employees pose a real challenge for managers. It’s clear they are not pulling their weight – but at the same time, they’re often not performing poorly enough to be pulled up on it. It’s tempting to let them carry on, hope it’s a temporary blip and that they will pull their socks up.
The problem with this approach, however, is that if you allow people to go through the motions for too long, it can start to have a detrimental impact on the rest of the team. Colleagues who are working hard and going the extra mile start to feel resentful and wonder why they should carry on making a real effort when others have clearly taken their foot off the gas.
As a manager, you need to stop these employees becoming a dead weight which other more productive staff end up having to carry. So, what can you do to get them motivated and performing at peak instead of sitting their days out in their comfort zone?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. People will have very different reasons for ‘coasting’ and need to be tackled on an individual basis. The following five questions should help you identify the right course of action:
1. What, if anything, has changed?
Are you dealing with a ‘career’ coaster or an employee who has previously performed well but has recently lost their mojo? You will always come across people who have made an art of doing as little as possible to get by. But if a normally productive employee has become demotivated and disinterested, you need to find out why.
Are they struggling to get along with a new supervisor or feeling excluded from the team? Has some kind of organisational or departmental change left them disconnected and feeling at sea? Or maybe they are feeling resentful because they’ve been cut out of a key project they were looking forward to working on?
Try sitting down and having an open and honest chat with the employee in question to see if you can find out if changes in the company or the team are behind an unusually lacklustre approach.
2. Is the employee bored?
Very few of us are lucky enough to have roles that are exciting and challenging all the time. We all have to do the boring stuff as well as well as the fun stuff. But if people are doing the same, repetitive work day-in-day-out with no opportunity to learn anything new, they will inevitably lose their sparkle.
Lack of career opportunities can also stifle employees’ enthusiasm. If there is nothing to stretch them and they can see no opportunity for promotion or progression, they will see no point in trying harder than they need to. Think about what you can do to make people’s roles more interesting and help them play to their strengths. An opportunity to job shadow a colleague, involvement in a cross-departmental project, or maybe the chance to mentor a more junior employee are some of the things that might help to reignite people’s enthusiasm.
An opportunity to job shadow a colleague, involvement in a cross-departmental project, or maybe the chance to mentor a more junior employee are some of the things that might help to reignite people’s enthusiasm.
3. Are there more deep-seated issues at play?
Sometimes personal issues become so overwhelming that they swallow up all people’s energy and attention and push work to the bottom of the pile. These can be temporary issues (a wedding to plan, the birth of a child, a relationship break-up, financial difficulties) or long-term problems (such as a debilitating illness or an onerous caring responsibility).
There is, of course, no obligation on employees to open up and tell you what’s really affecting their performance. But if you are able to create an atmosphere where they feel safe to divulge personal issues, you will be able to make a judgement about how best to help them.
Sometimes it’s simply a question of giving people time to adjust to new circumstances or the space to sort a personal problem out. In other cases, you might be able to provide practical help by offering more flexible working arrangements, making adjustments to their role or referring them to your Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) for help. If people can see that you are being sympathetic and doing your best to support them, they will be less distracted and their focus and performance is likely to improve.
4. Do people understand what’s expected?
Are people really clear about their goals, what they need to do to meet their objectives and what ‘good’ looks like?
Use the formal annual appraisal as an opportunity to set realistic but challenging goals and have regular informal check-ins to make sure there is no room for misunderstanding or for complacency to creep in. Use the conversation to try to understand what really makes the individual tick and what you could do to boost their motivation and get them back on track.
If you have an HR system, use it to record what’s been discussed and log any training or stretch assignments that have been agreed, so that both you and the employee can easily access the information and check back at any time. Don’t be afraid to remind people that a certain level of commitment and effort is expected and that there could be consequences if they continue to let their performance decline.
5. Are you part of the problem?
Take a look in the mirror and reflect on whether your approach to managing people may be exacerbating the situation and making it too easy for employees to coast along. Are you being too ‘soft’ on people and not pulling them up when you really should? Are you letting people get too ‘cosy’ in their roles and not challenging them to be the best they can be? Have you written off certain members of staff because it’s going to be too difficult and time-consuming to try and turn their performance around?
In a busy working life, when there are 101 demands on our time, it’s tempting to push these people-related issues aside, but if you don’t tackle the situation head-on, it will only get worse. Make sure you are not giving people a ‘get out of jail free’ card simply because it’s the easiest option.
One action to take this week: Read ‘The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday Challenges’ by Sona Sherratt and Roger Delves.