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How to Manage a ‘Coasting’ Employee

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In one of our recent articles, we looked at how to motivate colleague who is nearing retirement and this prompted a couple of our readers to ask if we could write about how to deal with other employees who appear to be ‘coasting’.

How to identify a coasting employee

Every business suffers from employees who simply coast along. The problem is that these employees hit the targets that are set for them but don’t add anything more. They don’t strive for greater success, don’t take an active role in group or team discussions (unless told to do so), and don’t go out of their way to pass on their knowledge and experience to others.

Eventually, coasting employees will kill a business; and in the NHS coasting can do even more damage. You only have to look at Mid Staffs to see how damaging the common symptoms of coasting can be: when people become complacent, standards eventually drop, and the whole organization relaxes into mediocrity.

If you’ve got an employee that is hitting targets but no more; who gets in on time and leaves on time every day; and does what he or she is told but doesn’t offer suggestions for improvements… you’ve got a coasting employee on your hands. You need to do something about this before the whole organization becomes infected with the same work ethic.

Four steps to deal with a coasting employee

There are four strategic steps to take when dealing with coasting employees:

1.Understand yourself

2.Understand the employee

3.Analyse the employer/employee relationship

4.Plan to change and create action

1. Understand yourself

This first stage requires that management takes a long hard look at the organisation and asks how its culture affects its employees’ attitudes to work. Here are some questions to ask:

- Is the workplace high-paced or relaxed?

- Do managers lead or control?

- Are mistakes severely punished, or do individuals and teams learn from them?

- Are mistakes ignored, and lessons not learned?

- Does the organisation encourage searching for better ways to do things, or is it happy with the status quo?

- Does the organisation have a published set of values and beliefs, and do managers act as examples of these at every opportunity?

Now that you understand your organisational culture, then you can move to the second step in this process.

2. Understand your employee

Different employees have different attitudes, abilities, capabilities, and values and beliefs, in the same way that organisations are different. Contemporary thinking has moved on from grouping employees into types based on gender, age, qualifications, and experience, and now it is recognised that the most important elements are behavioural style, values, beliefs, character, and emotional intelligence.

Indeed, emotional intelligence – self-awareness; self-regulation; social awareness; and relationship management – is the top predictor or workplace performance. If an employee finds it difficult to connect with colleagues and is unable to assess their own shortcomings, then they are more likely to coast along than strive for success.

Consider also what the employee is qualified or experienced to do, and what natural abilities he or she possesses.

3. Analyse the employer/employee relationship

Now that you understand the nature of the organization and the employee, you will be able to focus attention on the relationship between employer and employee:

- Does the job required offer the employee the opportunity to use his or her abilities and experience?

- Does the employee’s values and beliefs align with those of the organisation?

- Does the organization force work, or encourage participation?

- Is there a clash between employee and manager?

These are the sort of questions that will help you to analyse the suitability of work for the employee and the employee for the organisation.

4. Plan to change and create action

Now plan how to tackle employees – and the organisation and its managers – in order to tackle complacency and coasting. Your strategy will depend upon your individual situation, but is likely to include training and coaching at multiple levels:

Consider emotional intelligence assessment as a tool to empower managers and employees, and encourage people to become more self-aware. Emotional intelligence will help people to reduce stress and increase their effectiveness at work. They’ll work better with others, and align more easily with organisational values, beliefs, and goals. When this happens, people become engaged, and it is at this point that they stop coasting and start really performing.

Summing up

- Look for ways in which the organisation, its leaders and managers can help employees to increase their own emotional intelligence and engage with values and beliefs

- Identify strengths and weaknesses, and use people’s strengths by placing them in the right roles

- Help people to work on their weaknesses

- Communicate ideas, good performance, and values at every opportunity

- Involve people in strategy and planning

To encourage people to work hard takes hard work but the rewards will be tangible, with more effective performance leading to exponential growth in productivity.

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