Q: One of my employees often calls in sick and requests to work from home. I’ve noticed she phones in sick on days there’s a team meeting scheduled and feel she’s avoiding them. I cannot fault her work as she exceeds expectations, even on the days she works from home. However, I do need her in the office. What is the best way to bring this up with her?
A: Although this employee’s productivity is not an issue, this situation may set a bad example within a team and have an impact culturally on what is or is not acceptable. There is also the potential that this employee will not last long-term and – given that she is exceeding expectations – this needs to be addressed. The consistent lack of attendance at team meetings can most definitely create knowledge gaps as well as growing voids in the relationships between team members.
The frequent sick leave needs to be investigated. As it is specifically around meetings, this raises some red flags that it may be an internal issue. It may suggest that she is either avoiding presenting her work, which is unlikely as her work is exceeding expectations, but perhaps she doesn’t know this, or alternatively, she is avoiding a specific individual or people on the team.
Investigate: This staff member may be having challenges in her personal life and the fact that it is around meetings may be a coincidence, so this needs to be dealt with sensitively. Tread softly. Having a discussion with her is essential. It is only after this conversation that you move forward.
Approach – start positive: It is important that the individual is aware that the quality of her work is strong and she always exceeds expectations. It is important to start with a positive and to show full recognition for this; perhaps recognise recent pieces of work that have been strong. You will need to approach the fact that she has missed multiple meetings, but do this in a concerned tone rather than a disciplinary one – you wanted to make sure all was okay and to see if there was anything you could do to support her going forward.
Approach – Core of the issue: This could go a number of ways as the problem may be an unjustified lack of confidence in her work, a health issue, a clash with another individual at work or a personal issue. You will need to respect how much or little she decides to divulge and the level of action needed after will depend on this feedback. How you react to this feedback will be very important to your on-going relationship.
If it is simply an on-going health issue and is cleared up you can simply move on to point four. If there are personal or team member issues, you will need to show support take the necessary action to resolve this.
Approach – Explanation of the knock-on effect to the team: Following on from this, it is worth discussing the overall value of attending these team meetings. It is important for all team members to be aware of the overall team objective and be aware of the knock-on effect missing meetings can have on the group.
This is not about you being pedantic on time and attendance; you need to explain the overall team effect on potential productivity and inadvertently the need within the team for this to be resolved. While showing concern and flexibility, it is also important to be very clear on the expectations of your team members.
Ongoing support: This is an employee who is exceeding expectations, which is not easy to find, so support will be essential, especially if this is a personal issue. Before this conversation, you will also need to consider your working-from-home policy.
It may be worth investigating if she could work from home officially on certain days, but not on meeting days. It is important to show the ongoing support for this individual through a structured process reviewing on a weekly/monthly basis if deemed necessary.
Having had a discussion like this, it is important going forward that the employee still feels like you are in her corner and have the level of trust needed to still progress within the organisation.
This article first appeared in the business section of The Sunday Independent on the 5th of August, 2018, and the original article can be viewed here.
Associate Director | Munster