April 2016

Reducing the contagious effects of a low-performing employee

by Zach DiSchiano

You are an excellent teacher. You are dedicated to your work, and always show up with a positive attitude and a desire to make an impact on student lives. But one of your coworkers puts in half the amount of effort you do, takes as many days off as possible, and effectively decreases their workload while increasing yours. The worst part about it is the fact that your principal doesn’t seem to notice, or even worse—doesn’t seem to care. If your coworker can get away with underperforming without any consequences, why should you bother to spend the time and energy striving to be the best employee possible when you can be equally as lethargic without repercussions?

If this scenario sounds similar to something you have witnessed or directly experienced, trust that this is a common occurrence. TASB HR Services has received numerous comments in employee surveys regarding coworkers who take advantage of the system with their behavior seemingly going unaddressed by their principals or supervisors. Furthermore, employees are even more indignant when their boss fails to acknowledge what they do to pick up the slack left behind by their coworkers.

Negative impacts

A recent study conducted by Eagle Hill Consulting revealed that low performing employees negatively impact workplace culture and either spread their ineptitude to other coworkers or simply drive out the top performers.

Some of the key findings from the study include:
  • Low performers hurt workplace morale
    • Sixty-eight percent of respondents said the No. 1 issue was that low performers lowered overall workplace morale, and 44 percent felt that managers also increased the work burden on high performers.
  • Low performers stifle innovation
    • More than half of respondents felt that low performers added to a lack of initiative and motivation, contributing to a workplace culture where mediocrity is accepted.
  • Low performers in management positions directly affects attrition
    • Twenty-six percent of respondents within high turnover organizations cited “poor management” as the primary reason why people leave the organization.

Turning it around

The best way to arm principals and supervisors with the knowledge to handle employees that contribute a negative impact on workplace culture and productivity is through management development training. Principals and other school leaders who understand the importance of consistently holding employees accountable and recognizing when action needs to be taken can positively affect workplace morale and decrease turnover rates in a field already under attack by shortages.

Eagle Hill Consulting, which conducted the survey with a focus on general workplace environments, suggested a few ways to help prevent hiring low performing individuals and retain top employees. Below is a list of some of those key points with an added education spin for relevance.
  • Know your high performers
    • In addition to running exit interviews, try “stay” or “retention” interviews. These will solicit direct feedback from high performing teachers on how to improve school operations.
  • Define what “high performance” means in your district—and publicize it
    • By identifying what makes a great teacher, you can better select candidates who match up with your desired traits and prevent adding employees who are only going to bring down their coworkers.
  • Use a competency-based approach to hiring
    • Begin with a clear understanding of what a job requires and what to look for in a successful candidate. Develop a complete candidate profile that identifies what would make a candidate ideally qualified for the job. For teachers, it is important to identify teaching practices directly related to student learning.
  • Implement a “quality of hire” survey
    • Three months after a new hire is brought on, the supervisor can complete the survey and rate the new hire on his or her performance.
The competency interview process for teachers is discussed in our workshop—Hiring Effective Teachers and Keeping Them. We also explore the concept of retention interviews. Sample teacher interview questions correlated to effective teaching practices are available in the Recruiting and Hiring section of the HR Library

District supervisors who do not address low performance issues will see firsthand the toxic effects spreading amongst school employees. By attending manager development training and focusing on the retention of top employees, the workplace can continue to grow and improve as morale increases.