Why Do Laundry/Linen Managers Tolerate Difficult Employees?

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Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — I have had the privilege of visiting many laundries during my 40-plus-year career in the laundry business. I have also been blessed to be able to use my talents in a variety of locations. Over the years, I have come across some individuals who were very hard to work with. They often fall into the category of “does not play well with others.” Yet these employees seem to stay on the payroll despite their faults.

In discussing some of the specific situations I have come across, I have found that the justification for keeping these individuals around often falls into one of several categories. The first is the belief that these employees have essential information required for the proper operation of the laundry that is not possessed by the other employees. This is often a direct result of the fact that the employee in question will not share that information with anyone else. This type of employee is basically extremely insecure in his or her job and is afraid to share knowledge for fear that someone may take over his or her job.

I learned a long time ago that everyone can be replaced. There is no one employee who is essential to the operation of a laundry. There will be challenges in replacing a knowledge-hoarding employee, but after several months of turmoil, the end result should be better. You will have the opportunity to create a better work group that can fully utilize their talents and skills.

Knowledge-hoarding employees do their best to tamp down any idea that is not their own. They stifle creativity and cannot accept suggestions for other employees. In short, they are a real drag on employee morale.

The second reason problem employees have been kept on board is because no one has ever had the fortitude to confront these employees and address their job performance.

I can remember one supervisor I worked with 25 years ago. I gave this person an average performance evaluation. It was accurate and fair based on his on-the-job performance. His response to the evaluation was to ask me what was wrong with me. He said he had always gotten top evaluations for the past 10 years and the only thing that had changed was me.

No manager had been willing to honestly evaluate this employee because they knew he would complain to administration. I stood by my evaluation and was able to show how the wording in past evaluations did not support the actual ratings.

The desire to avoid potential conflicts with employees can cause us to keep a problem employee. Sometimes we have employees who are really good at causing problems between other employees. I call them pot-stirrers. They just love to gossip and tell stories about other employees.

Sometimes they are physically intimidating and get what they desire by bullying other employees. They are careful not to do so in front of other managers or supervisors. Employees do not want to file a report against them for fear of retaliation. We often pick up on the problem based on an unofficial conversation.

Coaching this employee into a better style of behavior is often impossible. Dealing with this type of performance issue is very difficult, but essential if you are to maintain good employee morale.

The truth is that in all these situations, we as managers accept less-than-ideal behavior or performance because it is easier to accept it than deal with the problem directly. In our failure to deal with these problems, we lessen our managerial performance and hurt our effectiveness as leaders.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at elfrederick@cox.net or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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