Employee’s Goofing Off? Just a Good Time For HR to Step Up and Lead

You’re the head of HR for your company, and your CEO walks unannounced into the office and says, “I just walked through the accounting, customer service and production departments and more than half of the employees are goofing off and wasting time.”

He goes on to tell you, “they are talking with each other and laughing, shopping online and spending time on either You Tube or Facebook. This goofing off is costing us money and hurting our company’s growth!

And, just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse he states, “You’re the head of HR, what are you going to do about this?”

The CEO has a point

While the CEO’s delivery was at best “blunt,” his concerns about employees wasting time is well founded. According to a recent Gallup poll, “over 70 percent of American workers are either actively or passively disengaged from their work.”

The Gallup poll tracks closely with the results of a 2012 survey on Wasting Time at Work conducted by Salary.com where it found that 70 percent of the survey respondents “admitted to wasting time at work on a daily basis.”

These findings are staggering when you think about the effects this type of lack of productivity has on a company’sbottom line customer service and ultimately profitability (and viability).

As the CEO leaves, you realize that you’ve just become accountable for solving this problem. Let’s go with it!

HR leadership

Human Resources is in a critical position to have a significant impact on the companies for whom they work.

It is becoming apparent that HR needs to be the driving force behind how a company finds and builds a winning team. The HR leader must be involved in every aspect of their company’s operations to identify the opportunities that exist between people issues (i.e. time wasting) and overall profitability and growth.

What your CEO has done, is given you the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills by collaborating with the departmental operating heads to enlist them in a company-wide effort to address this time wasting/lack of employee engagement. Your CEO has put right in your lap the opportunity to “lead.”

So what can you do and where do you start? Try these four areas to launch your effort. But before getting started, make sure to outline your plan with the CEO, showing him or her the activities, roles and desired outcomes. This way, you can solicit their support and get buy in from the beginning.

1. Forget blame, focus on accountability

One of the easiest things you could do is blame the employees of your company for wasting time and not being engaged.

While they do share in the culpability, they are to some extent responding to the expectations and leadership, or lack thereof, provided by their managers.

If you are going to be successful in solving the challenge your CEO has given you, the first thing you must focus on is accountability. That is, everyone from the CEO on down is accountable for the cause of the problem and the solutions needed to address it.

Your role as the HR leader is to help each of these “players” understand how they got there, what their role needs to be and what their part is in implementing the solution.

2. It’s all about your people transactions

To bring about the change needed, you will need to have a coordinated approach to the various “people” transactions that take place within your company. By people transactions, I mean those activities designed to impact the performance of your company’s employees.

First, take a look at how new employees are brought into your company. Examine your recruiting, selection and initial indoctrination activities.

Are they coordinated, consistent and aligned with the vision and goals of your company? Determine how each department “selects” new team members. Is there a need for enhanced interviewing skills training? Do departments have a picture of what an “ideal” job candidate should look like or do they “settle”? It’s a fact that many companies hire their future employee problems – make sure to hire the right people first!

Next, take a candid look at how employees are trained by the departments in which they work.

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To become fully productive, an employee needs to know what they do, how and when to do it and most importantly, why they do it. They need to know how what they do fits into the total purpose of their company. When team members know the “why” of what they do, it’s easier for them to stay engaged and not be tempted to waste time as often as others who are just occupying a desk.

In addition to showing people what they do, your managers should ensure that employees reach a satisfactory level of proficiency in what they do, before they are considered fully trained.

3. Performance: A function of expectations, accountability

Nobody likes to do a performance appraisal. Why?

Because it involves being candid with people about how they are doing. It is the least liked, but yet most important function every manager needs to perform.

What is missing from the majority of the performance appraisals done today is a discussion about specific job or performance expectations, and how the employee are held accountable to meet them. Setting expectations and communicating them to team members is a basic and critical managerial responsibility.

For the most part, very few do a good job meeting requirement. As the HR leader, you have to help educate your company’s managers on the importance of setting expectations. This is a great opportunity for you to be seen by your superiors as a valuable resource to help them succeed.

If you do nothing else, begin to work with your company’s managers (and the managers they report to) to help them understand the “why” and “how to” of setting and monitor expectations within their own teams. The upside gain for your company is huge, and you can play a major role in impacting company performance.

4. Help your leaders lead

A company is only as good as the leaders it has in place, and those leaders are only as good as how well they develop and utilize their teams. If the leader is not effective, then it stands to reason that the team will not perform satisfactorily on a consistent basis.

In your role as the HR leader of your company, any leadership training effort you launch should include the following:

  • Teach your leaders how to effectively listen to their teams, show a genuine interest and builds trust strengthening the relationship. Teams who trust their leader tend not to waste time and take advantage of their working relationship. Leaders who can communicate effectively and honestly tend to be trusted, resulting in a productive working relationship with their team.
  • Teach your leaders how to acknowledge and encourage the right behavior and performance on the part of their teams. We spend far too much time pointing out mistakes and shortcomings, and not enough time catching our teams doing the right things. When good performance is acknowledged, the team member will like the feeling and more than likely repeat the desired performance. When this happens, the team member is less likely to waste time and spend more time engaged in their work.
  • Teach your leaders how to delegate properly. Leaders, through proper delegation methods, find ways to challenge their team to help them grow and stretch their capabilities – a leader knows that if he and his team get better, his organization will automatically do the same. Employees who are properly challenged stay engaged.

Well, there you have it. When your CEO asked “What are you going to do about this problem?” he was inviting you into the room where the table is.

What table you ask?

You know “The Table” – the one that all HR professionals want to get a seat at. You’re in the room and the table is in right front of you, so go grab your seat!

Chris Ruisi is a nationally recognized HR and executive coach, leadership expert, professional speaker, and author who challenges business leaders to step up and play big. Drawing on his 35+ years as a senior-level executive, Chris helps his clients to discover how to find and use the full measure of their capabilities through his five fool-proof strategies for managers to boost team performance. To learn more, visit ChrisRuisi.com.


5 Comments on “Employee’s Goofing Off? Just a Good Time For HR to Step Up and Lead

  1. Creating a shared vision for the outcome of collective endeavour of the whole Organisation, through an LSIP to FSC has enabled many Indian Organisations tilt the scales to more productive engagement, creative contribution and better work satisfaction.
    Downsizing creates anxiety, delegation makes managers lazy and laid back. Excite them with new projects or take up a community / society development CSR project involving the idle members, hey start working and find work to do tool…

  2. Chris – While I appreciate the outline of action items you provided and agree these are areas where HR should be contributing to an organization, I’m struggling to make the connection to the original “problem.”

    The “problem” I detected is that the CEO by the nature of his observation and reaction appears to have a command and control mindset and antiquated managerial mentality based on a butts in chairs = productivity. It seems that his expectation is for the HR leader to function as the “get back to work” and “stop goofing off” police. And, worse, the HR person is taking action as a “yes person” follower of the CEO rather than a rational business person / functional leader interested in understanding concerns before leaping to conclusions.

    Maybe the employees were goofing off or maybe they were just taking a breather. Either way, I didn’t notice any recommendation for HR to examine the situation from a (bigger picture) cultural perspective and ask the CEO to do the same.

    Further, if someone (CEO or otherwise) demanded to know “what I was going to do about this” related to that type of situation, my first thought would be why are you bringing this to my attention rather than the accounting manager, CS department director or perhaps COO or CFO? Why is this automatically deemed an HR issue and not a managerial / leadership / communication opportunity within the immediate environment? Obviously, I’d offer HR support, if needed, but let’s put the accountability where it belongs first before launching into an entire production of revamping HR’s role to fix it.

    Finally, I’d prefer to leave pieces of furniture out of the equation, but IMHO blindly taking orders and jumping to implement “solutions” without first investigating a complaint is not the way to build credibility with a CEO or anyone else in the organization. The initial example may or may not have required any of the interventions suggested and there is nothing wrong with doing any of those items. But it comes across as if HR is to assume the CEO’s assessment and opinion of what he saw was accurate without question…

    ~KB @TalentTalks:disqus

  3. I’m detecting a theme this week in many of the posts I have seen. It all comes down to managing expectations and appearances can be deceiving.. The HR manager is not really in a position to manage expectation, but they can pass on the observation to the appropriate person. Care must also be taken in the handling, just in case some of the employees were actually engaging in online research or idea generation for a company project. That would need to be communicated back up the ladder.

  4. I like your conclusion. Problems are usually nothing more than opportunities in disguise. Good article.

  5. Managers need to know that they can crack down if necessary without worrying that HR will crack down on them. Everyone is afraid of a lawsuit, and you could lose a lawsuit if person A isn’t treated the same as person B even if they report to different supervisors. HR is supposed to set the standard so nobody feels they’re being picked on unfairly when they are reprimanded. Whether they deserve it or not is irrelevant if every other manager ignores the rules and lets employees get away with nonsense.

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