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Employee failures are your own

January 12, 2010
by Susan D. Gilster and Jennifer L. Dalessandro
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Why is it that employees are hired in assisted living and long-term care, placed in positions without any preparation or orientation, and then both management and administration become angry when the new employee makes a mistake or fails? Managers are annoyed when an employee does not make the right decision, or complete a task or perform “properly.” Yet who is really at fault? Employees do not leave their house each morning, head off to work, and contemplate ways to make mistakes, upset you, or irritate their colleagues. Like you and me, they go to work intending to do the best job that they can do. So why do supervisors, managers, and leaders degrade and punish employees when something goes wrong as though the employee deliberately made the mistake?

When an employee fails it is often because they are ill-prepared or ill-equipped for the task or the job. While we know—and in previous columns have touched on—the value of an effective orientation, many new employees are not afforded such an opportunity. Orientation is often not thorough, or is limited. Unfortunately, in some cases an orientation does not happen at all. Organizational performance expectations are welcomed by employees who truly want to please employers, but all too often expectations are not communicated. When staff members are left to fend for themselves without orientations, expectations, or instructions, they simply do what they think they should or conduct their work in a manner that was acceptable in prior positions.

So, when a staff member makes a mistake or exercises an error in judgment, it is important to take the time to find out what happened and why the employee acted in a particular manner before reprimanding or instituting disciplinary action. Were the expectations not clear? Was this a new situation not previously experienced? When the specifics of the concern are known, use this information to help the employee understand what they have done, why it should have been done differently, and how to prevent it from occurring again. Most often you will find that using this as an opportunity for education allows for two-way communication and a greater understanding of the true incident, and disciplinary action may not be necessary. It’s certainly a more respectful approach, as well. By using education before discipline, you create an environment of education, collaboration, and respect. If the employee is simply “written up,” yet not educated, they are destined to repeat the behavior again.

At the same time, the leadership team needs to evaluation the situation and determine how and why this mistake occurred in order to prevent future incidents. Did leadership fail to establish a thorough orientation? Did this particular employee need more time in orientation or did they complete the orientation program? Has the organization established standards and expectations for employee performance in the care of the residents and have these expectations been communicated clearly?

In essence when a new employee fails, you have failed. You have failed to either instruct, educate, or communicate. So, without assigning blame, examine your own systems, programs, processes, and procedures to determine if an effective system is in place for preparing employees to succeed, and if it is sufficient. If changes are made to your orientation or a system is altered as a result of your examination, make the adjustments, implement the changes and be sure to monitor the changes to determine your success.

There will always be some employees who do not want to perform in the manner you wish and repeatedly makes the same mistakes. We are not fooled and neither are you—disciplinary action is appropriate when an employee does not respond to education. The noncompliant employee simply needs to determine whether they want to work with you or not. Discuss, educate, give each and every person a chance to improve and if they aren’t “on board,” they will need to leave either by choice or through the disciplinary process. Exemplary facilities do not keep employees who will not perform to the performance standards set. And the “best employees” choose to work with organizations committed to high standards, high expectations, and those that provide excellent care.

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