askST Jobs: How should I tell my lazy subordinate to buck up without hurting his ego?

Articulate key performance indicators, and set up regular reviews to check if your team members are meeting expectations. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH

In this series, manpower correspondent Calvin Yang offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I have a lazy subordinate at work. As his supervisor, how should I let him know that he has to buck up without hurting his ego?

A: People who slack off at work are more common than you might think.

Ms Betul Genc, country manager of human resources firm Adecco Singapore, says working with lazy subordinates can appear unfair, but it is important not to hold on to resentment.

"Have a private chat with the co-worker to better understand the reason for his sloppy work," she said. 

"It may be caused by problems with a project, or he is unclear of his task and deadline. It can sometimes be personal matters whereby he is going through a difficult phase that affects his work." 

Then, set expectations, says Ms Rupali Gupta, talent solutions leader at global consultancy Mercer Singapore.

What do you desire of your team member in terms of deliverables and deadlines?

Articulate these key performance indicators, and set up regular reviews to check if he is meeting the expectations.

If this person is not receptive to feedback after all you have done, it could be because he interprets feedback as being judged, say experts. In such a case, explain the importance of receiving feedback and stick to the facts.

If a worker does not want to share his issues - saying that everything is fine - a supervisor can offer support by reassuring his subordinate that he is always available for a chat.

Some managers set up a weekly 15-minute one-on-one session with their subordinates, just to listen to their concerns.

But do not push your way through because that could backfire on you. The employee might clam up or become defensive, which would make it harder to have an honest conversation later.

Should other team members complain to you about the co-worker, ask specific questions on where he has not met their expectations and then address the issue head-on with the co-worker.

During review meetings, let everyone know how they are performing and give constructive feedback on areas they can improve on. Be empathetic and offer suggestions without getting personal.

Share best practices and areas for improvement within the team meetings, recommends Ms Genc.

"When action has been taken by your co-worker, recognise efforts by providing words of affirmation. Each time the co-worker succeeds, allow more flexibility for him to complete tasks in a timely manner with minimal supervision so that he can develop his own discipline and independence."

Ms Rupali suggests supervisors stop covering for their co-workers.

"Let them feel the heat on missed expectations and deadlines. This is important for them to realise where the misses are," she added.

"Remember your colleagues are not mind readers."

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