co-workers having difficult conversation

How to Deal with Problem Employees

Taking employees to lunch to discuss issues can reveal plenty for managers, employees for future job situations

By Kris Byk, Contributing Writer  

As facilities managers, we all have issues to deal with. When we signed on the dotted line, it was more about facilities issues and how to maintain, improve, and how to move our facilities forward. Then there was the incredibly small print at the very bottom of our contracts that vaguely mentioned dealing with employee/staff issues. 

Let’s face it, folks, we all have a bad apple or two, be it lazy employees or know-it-alls. It can be a real issue and lead to a toxic situation for our teams, affecting overall job performance, morale, and productivity. Remember the adage, “One bad apple can ruin the entire cart?”  

So how can we avoid this? I call it “the men in black apple pie theory.” This theory has worked incredibly well for me in the past 22 years. Here is the secret: Ask your difficult employee out to lunch. Do not take no for an answer. Be vague as to why and set a date. Remember, as the manager, you are in charge, so set the date. If the employee asks why, simply state you need to eat lunch and would like some company. I have two favorite places I go, usually by myself just to get away for a while, and I make it known when I go. This is important because it shows employees that you want them in your inner circle.  

Once at lunch, ask your employees questions such as, “Where do you see yourself? How do we improve the facilities?” If you do this correctly, you will be finished with your meal, and they will be halfway done with theirs. Let them talk, be supportive and be quiet. Usually when I do this, they sing like a canary and tell you anything and everything, good, bad and indifferent. This whole lunch process usually takes less than an hour, and hopefully will be time well-spent. This experience is to make them feel safe and appreciated, thus leveling the playing field, person to person, out of the normal work environment and getting to know them.   

Related Content: 5 Steps for Improving Workplace Morale

At the end of the lunch, you will know if it went well if they say thank you and ask if this can be a more frequent thing. That’s when you, as a boss says, “I’d love to.” Now here is the trick. Take the rest of your staff out at random times for one-on-ones with you as well. You will be amazed at what they know and what you will hear. Not only about the job but really what makes them and your staff tick. Hopefully the lunch date goes well and by keeping an eye on what they told you, you can improve their performance. Thus, turning your rotten apple into an award-winning apple pie. If it doesn’t work, then it’s time for a second lunch where I tell the employee the three-envelope joke. It’s a polite way of saying it’s time to move on. 

Once upon a time there was a very successful facilities manager who was getting ready to retire. He had been training his replacement for years but had some reservations. When the time came for the manager to retire, he brought his potential replacement in and told him that he left three envelopes in his desk. If anything should happen, the successor should open the first envelope and sequencing the second and the third. Things went well for the new manager for a while, then things turned worse. He remembered the three envelopes in his drawer. He quickly went to the first and opened it. It said, “Blame everything on your past predecessor and learn from his mistakes.” He did this and all was well. Five or six years later, things took a turn for the worse and he remembered the second envelope. He opened it and it read, “Ask for patience and ask for more time and forgiveness.” He did this and all was well. After another five years, things went south again, and he went for the third envelope. This envelope read: “It’s time to make three envelopes.” 

If you as an FM truly feel you did everything in your power, gave the employee a fair shake, and things didn’t improve, maybe it’s time for that employee to open the third envelope. You may have to eat a lot of apple pies and lunches, but I promise it will all be worth it. Remember to always keep your sense of humor and continue to think outside of the box. We are all in this together. 

Kris Byk is the director of operations of Watchung Hills Regional High School in New Jersey. 





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  posted on 1/31/2024   Article Use Policy

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