I am not advocating parenting your employees. But some of your employees may not have had the best role models in their life, so they have undeveloped critical judgment skills and poor decision-making with an inability to predict the consequences of their behavior.

Have you ever had an employee where you thought:

  • she’s a good worker — when she shows up for work.
  • this guy is perfect except that he cannot get himself to work on time.
  • why would she get drunk on a weeknight and then call in sick with a hangover, over and over again.
  • this staffer is personable, and the customers love him, but geez, he’s so darned lazy.
  • how can that employee be so blinded to take another job for 50 cents more per hour, but 20 hours less per week? Doesn’t he realize he’s taking a pay cut?

I worked with a young lady once who had barely been on the job for one week before asking for a day off to go shopping with her mother. That judgment is bad enough, but she confided to me that her mother had advised her to simply call in sick and not risk asking for the day off! Clearly, she wasn’t getting responsible career advice from her mother!

And that reminded me of the employee who couldn’t resist getting drunk during the workweek. I learned that her boyfriend had a drinking problem; her mother had a drinking problem, and her friends did, too. She wasn’t about to learn responsible behavior from any of those role models.

Long ago, I worked with another young lady. It was her first job ever and had been given a position of trust and was promoted.

Shortly after her promotion, she developed an attitude of entitlement and rebellion. One day, she simply walked off the job in the middle of her shift, angrily complaining that her boss had asked her to do a task within her job description, and like a rebellious teenager, “nobody is going to tell me what to do.” Lousy judgment, right?

Walking off your very first job ever because your boss told you to do some task? Fast forward four years, and she had not been able to get another job. Who would want to hire a young person with few skills and who had walked off her first job?

She did beg her former boss (after several years) for her old job back, and while he accepted her apology, he wouldn’t rehire her. After all, you can accept an apology, but it doesn’t undo the transgression. She had burned her bridge, and he wasn’t going to take another chance on her.Maybe she learned a tough love lesson?

Sure, the easy way out is to simply label these people “losers,” discipline them and/or fire them. But is that the smartest approach?

Most of those employees, I submit, often have other redeeming qualities that might justify “salvaging” them as your employee, especially when finding dependable, motivated employees is an employer’s ever-present concern.

So, what can you, as an employer of this type of person, reasonably do to role model the kind of responsible judgment that they are lacking in their personal lives?

Here are some possible solutions, none of which are guaranteed. After all, some of these problem employees are adults, not teenagers, who have spent their lives choosing one poor decision after another:

  • Spend some days to work alongside the lazy employee in his job role, demonstrating a solid work ethic in getting the job done.
  • Assign a stellar co-worker to act as a willing mentor.
  • Use break time to discuss your off-work entertainment activities that did not involve drugs or alcohol to show that there are fun options as a sober person.
  • By your own behavior as boss, show that you do not take shortcuts in your job role and that you’re willing to go the extra mile, that your position does not give you the right to “goof-off.”
  • Share your own experiences of the consequences of poor decisions you’ve made in the past and how those consequences taught you to be wiser in your decision-making.
  • Use opportunities to teach economics to the employee who can’t figure out the math in his next job or understand where and how his paycheck is calculated.

I realize that some of these suggestions might sound pie-in-the-sky and worthy of mockery. But at what point do you write off someone as a permanent loser?

You, the employer, have an unparalleled opportunity to not only positively affect a problem employee’s future career, but also change the course of someone’s life. I think it’s worth a shot.