The Mystery of Poor Work Performance

I was so thrilled to be hired by Southern Illinois University, 40 years ago, that I could not believe my good fortune and thought that, somehow, it was to good to be true.

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I had been employed in jobs that were more difficult and that paid much less…and had no benefits.

I was so afraid of not performing, up to par, that I would not take my entire 15 minute break or my 30 minute lunch as well as reporting to work…early.

My wife and I were newlyweds and she was thrilled that I had a job that she could, indeed, create a budget for and that we would be able to purchase enough groceries to feed us as well as pay our little mortgage on our house of 4 rooms.

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I was a Building Service Worker I, a janitor, and I was proud as a peacock of the opportunity!

After just few days I could see that there was room for promotion to a crew leader, a Building Custodian, if I did a good job and created a good name for myself.

Although it was commonly thought that you had to have pull to be hired by the University…I knew no one.

The first Christmas after my hiring on October 10, 1978 I relished that I was able to drive, in my new two door Ford LTD, with my new wife…and have nice Christmas gifts for my mother and step-father.

I felt like a player in the game of life.

I began cleaning Thalman Hall on the SIUC campus.  It was the General Accounting Building.  We often referred to it by its building number, 101.

The Building Service Worker that I followed had let the building become filthy.  Simply by doing my job…I began creating a good name among my colleagues.

As a manager, for 25 years, I dealt with personnel issues on a weekly basis.

The mysterious quandary, for me, was the staff member who appeared to have all of the necessary tools to accomplish the job that they had been assigned…with ease…yet they refused to do so.

I recall counseling a young woman, who was 17 years old, that if she did not improve her work performance that she was going to be terminated.  She, subsequently informed me that her father was a personal friend of the vice president of campus services…and that she would never be fired.

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I informed her that the message that I had given her, had come from the vice president.  I then proceeded to work with her for much of her shift in a last ditch effort to train her and bring her job performance up to satisfactory…so that she would not loose the greatest, job, opportunity that would ever be afforded to her.

The young woman continued to perform her work poorly and was terminated.

I have had, more than I care to remember, private counseling sessions with members of my staff that were on the road to loosing their position.  I had the practice and management philosophy that the meeting should be made up of three components.

  1. First, give the employee a sincere compliment regarding something that has impressed you regarding their work performance.
  2. Second, speak about the specific work duties that they are not performing properly and offer solutions ranging from; additional training, one of one supervisor monitoring…for a few work shifts and finally…to connect them with counseling if their performance problem was related to substance abuse or intellectual disability.
  3. Third, to once again deliver a heart-felt compliment to the staff member and assure them that I would do anything in my power to ensure that their performance improves…but they would have to tell me how that I could help them.

I have turned many colleagues around with this form of counseling….but not everyone.


There is a segment of employees that simply do not care if they are placing their work-load on their colleagues.

For whatever reason…they do not want to be where they are and they do not want to do what they are paid to do.

Now, this group of…’I really do not care,’  as the first lady had inscribed on her jacket, recently, at times can be turned around.  Often domestic issues or other home related problems are somewhat the cause of the lack of work focus.

Also, there is a culture of victimization that often stems from childhood that causes an errant employee to feel that everyone is their enemy and is out to get them…when in reality everyone is hoping beyond hope that they will just, ‘buckle down,’ and do the, fairly, routine and repetitive job functions that will enable them to continue to earn a living and facilitate their needs and those of their family.

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As a supervisor and a manager…one thing I knew…the deed of disciplining and participating in the termination of a member of my staff…was mine…and mine alone.

I performed a third shift inspection of Lawson Hall when I was the assistant superintendent.  The Building Custodian of Lawson Hall told me that he was thrilled that I had been promoted and that he and I, ‘had good rap.’

I told the gentleman that I had replaced in Thalman 101, that if he did not get the rest rooms cleaned up in Lawson Hall, which looked similar to the rest rooms that I had inherited in 1978…that I would be sitting across the table from him at Personnel and recommending his termination.

Now, this person had been on disability for several years and had came back to work  a few months prior to our discussion.  The next day he went on disability…again.


Physics teaches us that there is a positive and a negative ion charge.  To be a positive leader of men and women in the work place…necessary negative personnel adjustments…must happen…when all else fails.





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