When Employees Check Out: Tips To Deal With The "I Am Outta Here" Factor

Stuart Crawford

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When employees or team members decide it is time to check out and stop focusing on their jobs or their positions within the company, this causes some serious issues within your company. The damage can be disastrous for your livelihood and for the others on your team that are depending on you. What are some of the signs and ways that you can protect your company from the “I am outta here” mindset?

Employees that get into this behavior exhibit some of the following patterns:

Cover their butts - When employees check out and stop caring about the organization, they immediately go into the “cover my butt” frame of mind when everything they do is geared towards making sure that they are not to blame for things that go wrong. Some of the behaviours in this mindset include:

  • Carbon copy or even worse blind carbon copying management and directors on emails or voice mails on a particular topic, so when things go wrong (which they normally do at this stage) they can say that it was not their fault.

  • Excuses such as, “I am not at fault, ” “someone else screwed up, ” “a vendor, another team member, the client didn’t tell me. ”

  • Things just don’t get done. However, to the client has the perception that things are happening because they hear excuses like “I am busy with something else” or “it is on my list” to give the impression that they are taking care of things.

  • They also can become very protective with their responsibilities and territories; perhaps this is spawned by some plans to take the clients with them when they eventually depart the organization. Hint to the business owner-make sure you have a strong non-compete agreement in place.

  • Details are recorded on everything privately. When someone is covering their butt they record every detail privately. You will find emails between staff members, records of conversations, and screw-ups by management; basically everything is recorded just in case it needs to come out in the future.

  • Close relationship with someone inside. When an employee hits this stage, they normally find someone inside the organization that they can trust or stand on their soapbox in an attempt to win over one person to their side.

    Going through the motions – Most employees in this stage are just going through the motions. Communications dry up with exception of the person they find to confide their poison or misconceptions of what is really happening around them. People going through the motions do the bare minimum to get by. They normally do not draw any attention to themselves with the exception of the clients of the business.

    Protection of territory – When an employee has checked out they come very protective of their territory or clients, they are no longer your business’ clients, these are their clients. Communication attempts from anyone outside of themselves is deemed as interfering (getting in the way of their own mandate) and attempts from management or others in the company to contact the client directly are squashed by them as not needed. Their goal here is to damage the reputation of the organization that they are working in for their own benefit.

    So what can the business owner do to protect their business from employees that have checked out and perhaps causing some damage to the organization?

    Early detection is the key – Spot the signs right away. This will limit the amount of damage that can happen when the checked out employee behavior patterns start. Consult with senior team members to see what is happening in the trenches, regain trust within your own team that the company is in track and doing the things that we set off to do and if the poison has started, immediately commence counter measures to combat this from spreading.

    Team building activities - The types of activities are always well received by those on the same page and rebelled against by the checked out ones as stupid or not relevant to the job at hand. Remember this sort of counter measure is interfering with their plans to inject poison in the team.

    Meet with clients – Get out of your office and meet with clients, do not take no for an answer and meet in a neutral location like a coffee shop or have lunch. Re-assure your client that your company is taking care of them and not the individual. The individual is attempting behind your back to poison the relationship or to affirm to the client, that it is them and not the company that has been taking care of them all of the time.

    Removal – Many times business leaders do not remove the individual until it is too late. They feel compassion to work with them or to coach them on how to be a better team player. Business leaders need to grow a backbone here and remove the individuals before it is too much damage is done. Never use excuses like “We are short of man power” or “50% is better than nothing”. Remember, the behavior that you see is only the tip of the iceberg. You need to understand that the poison is being spread to the clients, to other team members and to the general public.

    Document and Record – Everything you do needs to be recorded, including disciplinary actions, reviews, emails between team members, and conversations with clients. They all need to be recorded. I cannot stress this point enough – document and record everything.

    Employees that have checked out rarely can be brought back to be a functional member of your team. Sure, they can change their behavior patterns to match what you want to see, however the underlying facts remain. This leopard cannot change their spots. Employers today need to cut loose these employees immediately without hesitation and fears of what will happen. Normally in these situations the opposite occurs, your team will thank you for removing this poison from the organization and make comments like “Gee, what took you so long. ”

    When you and the checked out employee have parted company, and they try to go after your business, you must be ready to fight. This includes enforcing the non-compete clause in their agreement with your company. As long as it is not too restrictive, it will protect what is rightfully yours. This means your client base, you business, and your obligation to your employees to provide them with the means to create a living. Protect your turf at all costs.

    Stuart Crawford is a business leader in the Calgary, Alberta small business computer consulting marketplace. Stuart works with small business consulting companies across North America to ensure that they become successful. He can be reached at http://www.youfactor.ca Stuart also manages the Canadian Small Business Show at http://www.canadiansmallbusinessshow.com

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