Work It Out

Dealing with deadbeat employees
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the March 1999 issue of . Subscribe »

After interviewing about a thousand applicants who looked and acted like business-school rejects, you finally found an assistant with the necessary qualifications. But you're realizing she's not quite as career-minded as you thought. She shows up late almost every day and makes hour-long calls to her boyfriend every time you turn your back. When you confront her, she grins and asks if she can take a vacation next month. Welcome to Boss Land.

What's the best way to deal with Ms. Broken Alarm? Before you fire her and start from scratch with someone new (who may end up making your vacation queen look like Employee of the Year), try to work with what you have, using motivation as a tool.

Motivated employees are productive employees, says Richard Hadden, a Jacksonville, Florida, professional speaker, employee relations consultant and co-author of Contented Cows Give Better Milk (Williford Communications, $30, 800-339-6778), a book that highlights the human resources successes of six profitable organizations. According to Hadden, it is possible to motivate your staff into productivity. In fact, it's as easy as one, two, three.

1. Equip and empower. "Create a setup in which your employees can succeed," says Hadden. Don't blame Susie Show-Up-Late for lack of motivation if you haven't trained her properly. She should feel comfortable asking questions. Be patient, since she'll probably ask a lot of questions while she's learning. Watch her work, and praise her for each task completed correctly.

If you take the time to train your employee to be proficient from the start, you'll feel more comfortable delegating tasks--and your employee will be more productive and satisfied.

2. Show you care. "In successful companies, the employees work hard because they know their bosses really care about them as individuals," explains Hadden. Great pay, while important, is not what keeps employees happy and productive, he contends; it's the satisfaction of being appreciated that gets results.

"Find out what your employees need. Ask `What can I do to make your life easier?' " says Hadden. "Then do your best to provide it." Walking the walk is another key rule here. During crunch times, when you're asking employees to put in long hours, are you doing the same? Your presence speaks volumes when workloads are heavy and deadlines loom.

3. Tie employee pay to company performance. "The employee should bear some of your company's risk," says Hadden. Even the smallest companies can set up a profit-sharing system in which you pay a percentage of company profits for work well done. Profit-sharing is the best way to avoid paying for low productivity. Be specific about dollar amounts, and provide periodic financial reports, making sure the employee understands there's a direct connection between the completion of the assigned task and the reward. "Your employee will quickly realize his [or her] level of income depends on the success of this business," Hadden says. Bingo. Instant enthusiasm, from what looked like a lost cause.

Tina Gasperson ( writes from her home in Tampa, Florida. Subscribe to her free online newsletter for entrepreneurs at

Fit To Be Tried

Prevent lost causes by hiring intelligently--what Richard Hadden, an employee relations consultant in Jacksonville, Florida, calls "hiring for fit." That means looking beyond qualifications and experience to traits such as being adventurous and flexible.

"Many people have the entrepreneurial spirit, but lack the capital to start their own businesses," Hadden notes. "They would welcome the opportunity to help make your [company] a success. It satisfies their drive to be creative and live on the edge."

Make it clear at the interview that your company can't provide the security of the typical mega-corporation. Emphasize that you can't provide lots of perks and benefits. Let the applicant know this is not just a "put in your 40 hours and go home" kind of job, but it will be exciting and fulfilling; they'll take part in creating a successful company from scratch. Being honest upfront, says Hadden, is the best way to find what you need: employees who'll do whatever it takes to make your business succeed.


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