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What Do You Do When Your Top Performer Loafs

February 1, 1997
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The Dilemma:
Monique has come to you with yet another complaint about a fellow employee. Now she’s up in arms about Rick, a long-time top performer who works with her in the desktop publishing department. Apparently he has a habit of playing computer games between projects. You’re aware that Rick is the most productive employee in the group, so how do you address Monique’s concern?

Readers Respond:
The dilemma states that Monique "works with" Rick, therefore she isn’t his supervisor. Also, it has been determined that Monique has complained to the supervisor before—apparently about other matters. Monique may be trying to create a concern when none exists. Rick’s behavior may be consistent with the others’, including Monique’s. I recommend that the supervisor assess Monique’s workload and make the appropriate changes. It’s evident she doesn’t have enough work to do.
Christopher L. Walter, Human
Resources Administrator
Office of the Ohio Public Defender
Columbus, Ohio

I would simply ask Monique: "How is Rick affecting your work performance? What is he doing that’s causing you to be less than fully effective?" If her answer is that it’s not affecting her work performance, then we can discuss what it is affecting. If it is affecting her job, we’ll discuss it in more detail. Monique needs to understand that the focus is on results and achievement of responsibilities. If Rick is one of our most productive people, playing some video games (or reading, walking, daydreaming, and so on) is perfectly acceptable so long as it isn’t having a negative affect on other people’s jobs.
Ross S. Gibson, Chief Administrative Officer
Cambridge NeuroScience
Cambridge, Massachusetts

There are two issues here. First, since you pose the suggestion that Monique files "yet another complaint," I assume this is somewhat of a problem. If she is correct in her complaints, then although she may cause problems, it appears the problems should be caused. All too often we don’t support employees who are conscientious and who can’t stand seeing others’ performance needlessly suboptimizing company results. We need, however, to help her learn how to address some of the less serious issues as a concerned co-employee. Many times such input is better accepted when it’s given directly, adult-to-adult, rather than by a surrogate parent.

It sounds like the group is a bit dysfunctional and could use some development training. Concerning the high-performing employee who plays computer games, the supervisor should discuss the behavior with him. Whether the employee is paid hourly or weekly (or monthly) as a salaried person, the employee needs to understand that he isn't being paid to play games. If he is a consistently high performer, I would make the assumption that compensation recognizes this and reinforces the no play rule.
Joe Lakes, HR Director
RR Donnelley and Sons Co.
Willard Ohio

Monique appears to fit the role of the "chronic complainer," and thus the first action should be investigating whether she has enough work to do. Her work deficiencies may be the real problem, and continued complaints may be her way of redirecting management's attention.

If Rick is a proven top performer, I wouldn't even apprise him of Monique's allegation. I would, however, recommend that the department manager heighten his or her awareness of the interaction between Rick and Monique in the event that a problem of more substance should arise.
Phil Brunone, President
HR Solutions Inc.
Harleysville, Pennsylvania

Workforce, February 1997, Vol. 76, No. 2, pp. 75-76.

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