With pay freezes and downsizing a constant threat and reality in many agencies, deadweight employees are even more irritating than they once were.
How do government agencies and managers deal with these employees?
The Federal Eye and GovLoop got a range of responses for our Federal Buzz question of the week. In some agencies, firing these employees is difficult, if not impossible because of red tape, so they shun them until they quit. Some “slackers” are not really slackers after all. Here is what our readers told us:
Mark Leheney, Senior Consultant at Management Concepts:
It is a perennial issue, one that can be emotional, and one that is an unintended consequence of many rules and regulations that have the good intention of preventing arbitrary action by supervisors and managers. It is supposed to be a rigorous process to remove a non-performing employee...unlike the private sector, the federal government is not going to go out of business. It might get downsized a lot, and that could affect the workforce, but the essential dynamic is different from the private sector. There is no profit signal to rationalize operations or performance.
Christopher de Wolfe, IRS Human Capital Office, Dallas
My observation is that the manager sees the staff as a whole. If the productive employees carry the staff members who are “sliding by,” and overall the productivity is sufficient, the entire staff is praised. There appears to be no repercussion to those who “mail it in.”
If someone isn’t up to par, we try everything to get them on track - colleagues work with them, sometimes we put them on a different project - before management gets involved (generally with an improvement plan). Failing that, they’re asked to leave. BUT, this approach is the exception, not the rule - in many other offices, the process for terminating a poorly-performing employee is so inane that managers are more willing to let someone who’s incompetent and brings down morale to have a meaningless job that keeps them quiet, than to get rid of them
David Weinstock, Former FEMA employee, Fairfax, Calif:
At FEMA Region Nine, during my almost sixteen years, the worst slackers were also the bootlickers, so they got promoted.
Dept. of Defense employee:
In response to your first question, they don’t, except in special circumstances. It’s incredibly difficult to fire a Fed; managers must document, document and document again. All the t’s must be crossed and i’s dotted or the action will go nowhere. The intelligence community has more leeway as they can fire employees citing national security concerns. Heavy drinking, too much debt, etc. The recent firings of the rogue Secret Service agents is a good example. Otherwise, most federal managers don’t have the time or energy to deal with the slackers. It’s easier just to give them satisfactory annual ratings and work around them. As for the second question, had I been a manager I would have done the same thing. Unless and until OPM and the Executive agencies simplify their dismissal rules the status quo will continue, regardless of how slackers affects morale.
Kevin Lanahan, Interactive Media Specialist at the Missouri Department of Conservation
“Not every ‘underperformer’ is a slacker. Take a bright, highly motivated person with a passion for an agency’s mission and give them a job. Then bury them under piles of red tape, creaky bureaucracy and a compensation system that doesn’t reward innovation and initiative. Make sure there’s no career path other than to go into management, and don’t make any effort to find out why they under-perform (family pressure? changing interests? complete lack of fun in the workplace?) Once you kill the employee’s drive to get anything done, wonder why they don’t perform better.”
Peter Sperry, Budget Analyst at PBGC:
Sometimes you have to trust supervisors, managers and executives to make the best choices regarding who is and isn’t deadwood. There is a story that while Henry Ford was escorting some VIPs through his plant, one of them noticed an office worker napping with his feet on the desk and asked how someone like Ford (who was known as a hard boss) tolerated that kind of slacking off. Ford replied that the last time that worker woke from a nap and took his feet off the desk was to bring him the design specs for what became the Model A. We all think we know who is or is not deadwood; but often working hard is not the same as producing value.
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