How to Approach This Situation at Work?

Hi All

Just wanted to get some ideas about approaching this situation at work. I am a mid-level manager at a public organisation. Lately, I have noticed that some staff members (mostly staff under 25 years) are spending excessive time on non-productive items (e.g. Social Media, web surfing, YouTube etc.). I don't want to micromanage and I think 20-30 minutes a day, in addition to their usual breaks is still acceptable, but this trend is way beyond this. Although, I have all the avenues available, including disciplinary action from HR, but I wish to avoid that option, atleast for now.

My senior manager and director do want our performance to improve, but not at the cost of anyone's welfare or toxicity in the work environment. This public organisation is a very high-volume work environment. I have had one-on-one conversation with staff and without attacking them, and just subtly hinting at things, 2 people have admitted that they are being "lazy" and "not as enthusiastic as before". But right after the conversation was over 1 person straight up opened up their phone to do some non-work related thing, as soon as they returned to their desk.

I agree that there would be certain amount of burnout as well. How would you approach this situation, so we can improve productivity ? What is the expectation in Australia ? What are some cultural differences, I might be overlooking? What would you think of me walking to a person, knowing that he/she is on social media, and asking them straight up - "Are you working?" "What are you doing?". Am I being a pushover? I think the downside of this would be that staff become resentful over time and will need someone to keep checking up them on a regular basis, which I do not wish to do. Further, I think that if that fear is not the best motivator, and behind my back things would be back to usual. I have tried appreciating them, whenever I notice anything good as we don't have much budget for financial incentives. But this has not worked too well. What strategies would you use ? Or what have successful strategies you have seen in implementation.

I count my work hours and if I am being honest there are days when I feel that my productivity was low. On those day, without any prompt from anyone, I would spend extra time on the weekend or stay back, to ensure I was being fair to the organisation. I feel dissapointed when I see people cutting corners and being dishonest/inconsiderate towards the organisation and its customers.

Please be absolutely ruthless and honest in your assessment.

Comments

  • +58 votes

    Just fire them.

    • +17 votes

      Good luck firing people in a public organisation!

      Most of them have a 3 strikes system with at least another 18-month performance management program before you can even consider sacking someone.

      Best thing to do is to just cut off any progression make it known they will go no where if they are under 30 chances are they dont want to be making whatever they are making for the rest of there life and they will leave

      But if that doesnt work you are screwed but chances are the people working under you make less then $28 p/hr so you get what you pay for…

      People complain about productivity levels of lower level staff at my work place but most of these people make 23-24 p/hr and have limited to no progress in there job, no performance bonus system and know they can almost not be fired what do you expect?

      on top of this management is the probably lazy so look at yourself and the managers around you and if you cant honestly say they are giving 110% (which i know they arent if you work public) then you cant expect that from staff

      • +8 votes

        I'd fire you in a heartbeat

        • +8 votes

          good you can pay me my entitlements then pay me for unfair dismissal again ill find a job in a 1-week whilst you will ruin you reputation as the court case battles over years and years resulting in your workcover premiums sky rocketing for the whole business cost far more then the cost of just paying me

          I work in with work place insurance the best way for public companies to get rid of someone is make them want to leave firing an individual is way more difficult and costly it is my advice to all employers

        • +1 vote

          FIRE me please :)

        • +18 votes

          Three demerits and you'll receive a citation. Five citations and you're looking at a violation. Four of those and you'll receive a verbal warning. Keep it up and you're looking at a written warning. Two of those, that'll land you in a world of hurt; in the form of a disciplinary review, written up by me and placed on the desk of my immediate superior.

        • +6 votes

          More fool you! You cant fire people in the public service…..
          Check this out, scary but true government job experience!

          Employee gets busted on multiple counts of breaking code of conduct.
          Employee suspended on full pay
          Six months later enquiry finds employee guilty on 60% of allegations.
          Union involved, employee comes back on final warning.
          Employee refuses to come in becauze not ready.
          then after 10.days comes in and heads off to doctor on day two.
          Comes back with medical cert, to go on 50% sick leave.
          Employee still gets rostered day off.
          Manager has to support employee back to work so they feel comfortable.
          Employee is very negative and a drain on morale.
          = Government job + Union

          Unfair dismissal is better than winning lotto…

      • +2 votes

        Good luck firing people in a public organisation!

        Can we fire them? Those are our tax dollars they're wasting!

      • +13 votes

        This is true, it is very hard to fire people in the public service.

        In my old job, working in a large government organisation, I won’t name though I may have mentioned it in the past, the way I’ve heard some areas deal with poor performers by promoting them.

        Because it’s so hard to fire them and get them outta your area, simply tell him there’s a EL1 spot in another area recruiting and write them a glowing review and wave them good luck. Let the new area deal with it lol.
        Now you can back fill the position you lost and hope for better.

        Before anyone calls me troll, I am absolutely serious that this happens in our public service.

        I left coz I couldn’t stand it.

        • +2 votes

          Cloudy is 100% spot on have this issue at work with staff all the time basically i bleed them out but showing them a different position somewhere else is also an option

          But firing someone is almost impossible anyone who works in public service HR will tell you that!

        • +1 vote

          That'll be the ATO. I experienced the exact same thing when I was there.

        •  

          This is true for public service. Quite often, the easiest way to remove a "dead weight" staff from our area is to promote them.
          Otherwise, be prepared for a lengthy process of HR performance review which would probably won't go your way because Union intervened.

      •  

        You'd be fun at parties.

    • +1 vote

      If people think they are not fairly compensated for their work, they adapt their work ethics: "You don't pay me for my work, I work for what you pay me".
      Suggest to them to do their social activities in the coffee room, so they don't contaminate your work ethic, and they might become more aware on how much non work related stuff they are doing"

    • +1 vote

      Haha, and do all the work myself ?

  • +4 votes

    Accept the new level of productivity and work from there.

    That or gamble and replace the work environment with new staff and hope you somehow get miracle new workers.. who knows you might get hard working migrants such as yourself.

    Aussies have a certain way of doing things definitely compared to other work cultures so it is up to you what kind of workplace you want and at what cost (removing someone's livelihood, creating enemies etc).

    At the end of the day business is business and ideally a business would want max efficiency and optimization but yeah you gotta interact with these people so how far you want to push it is your call but you do have the position of power here like parents have the choice in how they raise their children etc.

    Good luck Thai person hope you find your best answer etc.

    Thai people I know are very productive workers and yes the work life culture is also very different to Australian.

    All the best.

    AlienC.

    • +11 votes

      From what I've heard and experienced, Thai people tend to be non-confrontational and have the more general Asian face-saving values. Is that a fair assessment of you OP?

      OP seems to be compassionate, analytical and pragmatic, which are all admirable qualities. But to be an effective manager, they need leadership skills. These challenges are what I'd expect to be some of the basic duties of a mid-level manager. Do you have access to any managerial training resources OP?

      You need to use more tact than simply asking "Are you working?" "What are you doing?". Given that OP has reported immediate non-compliance from his staff, I would say that they are regarded as a pushover.

      I would try to assess each staff member's performance individually. Perhaps some are taking time for non-work related tasks, but making up for it in other ways such as being more productive when on-task or staying back as OP does. If not, I would confront them amicably to convey that their performance needs to improve. The next time I would suggest that their non-work related tasks are not appropriate during work time. The confrontations need to be documented and become more assertive until a satisfactory outcome is achieved or termination is necessary.

      I think a more individualised approach is fairer. If this is a systemic issue, sending out a group email reminding the staff of the expectations to not engage in non-work related tasks during work time, could be beneficial as a first action. But it could also have a deleterious effect on morale.

      I'm not sure about Thailand, but in Australia the public sector has a reputation for inefficiency, unproductiveness and cushiness. So OP may be fighting against the tide.

      • +1 vote

        Very well said. Thanks Scrooge McDuck for putting into words something much way better than I ever could given the time. Very well said.

      • +1 vote

        Completely agree. Also OP, make sure you set clear and detailed expectations regarding their KPIs. Read their job descriptions. Read their resumes, talk to them and find their interests, then give them tasks related to what interests them. Your job is to inspire them to want to work. And don’t beat yourself up if not all of them get inspired. Ask for advice from higher managers. As for being a mid manager in a public organisation, you are in a bad bad place by default.

      •  

        Thank you, I will start with a group email as a first thing.

  • +18 votes

    Honestly, young people and social media - it is ridiculous how addicted they are. Remove all temptation, no personal phones during business/non-break hours. Anyone who breaks the rules isn't the right person for the job. Fire them.

    •  

      This. Block Facebook/Instagram/twatter etc on the office network. Fire anyone sitting on Facebook on their phone.

      • +21 votes

        Or start by sending them a Facebook message, "GET BACK TO WORK!! 🔨"

      •  

        To be fair I have a networking job and causally browse my phone when waiting on hold with vendors etc.
        I'm not on my phone generally even though I could be because work needs to be done.

    • +2 votes

      How about cigarette/ smoke breaks?

    • +2 votes

      hmmm. I have co-workers around who spend 30 min every 2 hours in a toilet cabin with their phones. how can you legally restrict them from doing their stuff sitting on toilet thrones? Open space toilets? cavity checks at the toilet doors?

    • +6 votes

      Honestly, young people and social media -

      I agree somewhat . Honestly though, there has been and most likely always will be things to spend time on at work (besides actually working). 30 years ago it would have been smoke breaks. Nowdays I think many employees just won't give you the job if you smoke because of the time wasted on smoking breaks. I had a job about 15 years ago and I argued for a tea drinking break, as my work colleagues were allowed 5-10 minutes break every hour (often they took longer) for smoking. They claimed their smoking break meajt they could then get back to work, but work even harder, as if the smoking made them a better worker lol. So I said the same about having a break for cuppa tea xD .
      1 of my mates used to take 20-30 minutes toilet breaks magazine reading breaks.
      Sure, social media sucks etc etc etc …
      The problem with people wasting time while 'on the clock' at work is certainly nothing new or strictly with young people of today.

    • +1 vote

      Sorry, I work amongst a bunch of older people and they are on personal phone calls or discussing sports/politics for most of the day. That's worse because everyone around them get distracted as well.

  • +31 votes

    Public organisation as in government?

    On behalf of myself and other tax payers, please ask them to get back to work ;)

  • +106 votes

    if you want to improve productivity work on output rather than input. Set defined deliverables for people and work with them on ways to improve efficiency so they can be achieved. If people produce what you need, quickly, then time is their reward. Don’t make the mistake of then overloading them, but you can slowly ramp this up. There is nothing more frustrating as an employee than not understanding what is required then being told off for being unproductive.

    I don’t think it is a cultural thing so much as a boredom thing, Despite our “laid back” rep we are actually recognised as hard, productive, workers as we aren’t hamstrung with saying “that isn’t my job”. Don’t say, “stop looking at your phones”, just say “I need x done by y”, get their agreement and, half way through the timeframe, find out what they have done. If people aren’t meeting targets then work on strategies.

    People’s productivity needs to be measured by the amount, and quality, of what they produce not the apparent effort put in.

    • +27 votes

      Couldn't have said it better. Never judge productivity based on the time put into work. There might be people who have nothing to do at home so will stay back longer hours at work and do non-work related stuff. On the other hand, there might be people who leave on time but don't waste time on non-work related stuff while they are in the office.

      As per the above comments, if they are meeting their target of X in specified Y time, leave them alone to do it their way. Of course, if this is not achieved, then look at other options.

    • +9 votes

      Completely agree with this.

      Work environment is becoming very fluid. I may look at Facebook at work. But I also look at work stuff at home. I also answer work related emails when I receive them regardless of the time or day (as long as I'm awake).

      I may check the news but I also sometimes work late at night once my son has gone to bed.

      As long as they are delivering the outputs by the requested time, what does it matter what they are doing at any particular point?

    •  

      Thanks a bunch, surely will keep this in mind.

    • +4 votes

      we aren’t hamstrung with saying “that isn’t my job”.

      Looks like someone has never been to a construction site lol

      •  

        There are exceptions, I would prefer the general labourer doesn’t drive the crane or the cleaner do brain surgery, but the “muck in” attitude is pretty strong. Some workforces can be more rigid though.

    •  

      You've obviously never worked in the public sector. Hard work and productivity are very rarely rewarded. If you can work twice as fast as everyone else you dont get to home early and you dont earn more money. No one gets a bonus or any other incentive for being more productive. And promotions are very rarely given to those who work the hardest or smartest … they are given to those who excel at interviews and the whole extremely drawn out recruitment process.

  • +9 votes

    Perhaps your organisation/department doesn't inspire anyone to focus on work, no motivators.
    Leadership demands and no recognition?

    • -1 vote

      You know what inspires people to get off their phones? Restructuring. Have a round of sackings, downsize the department, mention it was due to excessive mobile phone useage and excess spare time at work.

      Spread new work load across remaining staff to give them something more to do. Set production targets. Break foot off in the arse of the first person to get on their phone at work.

      • +2 votes

        Don't know why this is being negged. If there's not enough work, it means there are too many people employed. If there is work but it isn't being done, it means there are wrong people employed. Either way - cut the dead wood.

        • +6 votes

          The same people that are negging me are the same ones that want to be treated like special flowers and have "most improved spelling and punctuation" awards at work.

          "OMG Becca, I was just like on OzB at my desk, and this guy was like saying, I shouldn’t be on my phone at work and should like, just like do my job! #outraged #notyourjob #getoffmycase"

        • +2 votes

          Being negged because it's a poor motivator and a sign of terrible management.

          Restructuring is something you do to provide more effective solutions or betting costing for your customers/clients. Not something you do because you don't know any other way to get the most out of your staff.

          •  

            @Cubist:

            to provide more effective solutions or betting costing for your customers/clients.

            Increasing productivity will necessarily lead to lower costs.

            • +1 vote

              @HighAndDry: And if your go to method of increasing productivity is to resort to restructure/sackings, then chances are you are part of the dead wood too.

              You would really need to ask yourself why you deserve to be paid a managers salary, when you aren't able to manage anything other than managing out.

              •  

                @Cubist: Wait, why does "managing" not, in your view, include firing and hiring decisions? And nowhere have I said that firing people should be the only step. Does noone read comments?

                • +1 vote

                  @HighAndDry: Nowhere have I stated that firing and hiring is not a part of management. Please stick to arguing against points I have made, instead of points you find it easy to argue against.

                  If it helps, A "go to" method is a method you choose first.

                  You've got to admit that it's a little bit humerous that you have made 15 comments over two hours on a Thursday afteroon on a thread about job productivity.

                  •  

                    @Cubist:

                    If it helps, A "go to" method is a method you choose first.

                    Uh huh, maybe you should take your own advice of:

                    Please stick to arguing against points I have made, instead of points you find it easy to argue against.

                    Where did I say that firing people should be the "go-to" method?

                    •  

                      @HighAndDry:

                      If there is work but it isn't being done, it means there are wrong people employed. Either way - cut the dead wood.

                        •  

                          @HighAndDry: Yes… If there is work that isn't being done, and your go to method is to restructure/terminate staff, then you are part of the dead wood too. Not sure why you are having such a hard time following.

                          •  

                            @Cubist: This discussion is in the context of OP's specific circumstances, yes? Including that OP has tried other methods, so that any ideas is by definition not a "go to" solution, right?

                            2 people have admitted that they are being "lazy" and "not as enthusiastic as before". But right after the conversation was over 1 person straight up opened up their phone to do some non-work related thing, as soon as they returned to their desk.

                            OP has tried being nice. Their "go to" solution was to be nice. It didn't work. I don't see any reason to extend, at least to this specific person, any more benefit of the doubt. I stand by my advice - cut the dead wood.

                            •  

                              @HighAndDry: I am addressing your generalist advise mentioned above, and not the OPs situation.

                              If there is work but it isn't being done, it means there are wrong people employed. Either way - cut the dead wood.

                              Bad advice. Regardless of how you try to frame it.

      • +4 votes

        Sounds like a great way to kill employee morale

      • +1 vote

        Fear is a powerful motivator, and no doubt we can also end up having a restructure. But I would like to exhaust all the options, before going down that train. Further, I did not mention that some people are doing a good job and I wouldn't like to put everyone in the same basket.

  • +4 votes

    Issue the employee with a formal warning. Next ask the employee to leave the phone in their locker, desk, handbag, backpack, vehicle.

    We have team members that something use their phones during working hours. We tell them off right these on the spot. We ask them to either stop and put it away or go home.

  • +9 votes

    Q1 - How is the overall culture of the organisation/your dept? (be honest)
    Q2 - Are you a Manager that talks sh!t, promises the world and gives them jack/not supportive
    Q3 - Do you have rewards system the show your appreciation to your workers? (e.g monthly Pizza, lunch etc) A pizza once a month won't break the bank of a large org.
    Q4 - Do you have Toolbox/Team meetings on a regular basis to discuss issues and continuous improvement, asks for feedback and listens … then follows up? Walks the talk
    Q5 - Do you have a subordinate or another person that is a liaison to you and can communicate freely so you receive their honest opinion? Employee's do get intimidated with their direct Manager and possibly will give you an answer that you want to hear so you don't bother them and cause further repercussions.
    Q6 - Are your KPI's realistic? .. if so how are they measured?

    Many on here talk about firing, warnings etc … however I think the crux of the issue is try to work on the overall culture for continuous improvement and have a happy workforce.
    Happy culture provides better yields (unless you have some blatant idiots that milk the system and make it obvious)

    • +2 votes

      A pizza once a month won't break the bank of a large org.

      OP said public organisation. This is probably not allowed.

      I know people who work for state govt and when they borrow a work vehicle overnight (for a next morning appointment), they're not allowed to stop at the shops on the way home, even if directly on the route, because that's "personal use" of the vehicle…. They're insanely strict about any "perks".

      • +4 votes

        Yeh, no perks.
        If you play by the rules , the only benefit for full time.staff is job security and knowing your lower than average wage is secure.

      •  

        I work in a public organisation, I can confirm that not everywhere is like this.

    •  

      Q1 - Overall, its good. But like they say "one bad apple….", the culture can expand a bit in that direction, if things don't change.
      Q2 - Well, I like to think that everyone has been fairly supported. I raise this question with the people often and sometimes ask for feedback from the staff, and telling them to feel free. If they hesitate, I also tell them of things, that I felt could be improved and their thoughts on this. So that people are more vocal and are able to say things, without fear.
      Q3 - As the other staff have mentioned, such options are limited. I don't mind paying it myself, but I feel that these things often good for team building, and whenever we used such approaches in the past we didn't notice much change.
      Q4 - Thanks, that is something I plan to develop.
      Q5 - As mentioned above, I will keep an eye out for this, and will surely look into it.
      Q6 - Well, we don't have KPIs, which is one downside that I see. Broad criteria is often customer feedback, however it doesn't essentially capture key things like, how much did you work in a day. We do have access to stats and we used to have a leader board at one stage, but it was decided that it wasn't good for the people who were not making it there. The mindset (and I agree with it currently) in the organisation is that as you put an effort in, we are okay with it. There are some staff who try a lot and have a lot of things going in their life, and their stats might not be as good, but my seniors are happy with it.

      I agree with your idea of cultural improvement, just wanted to ensure that I am thinking all the possible things and seek guidance from the experienced people out there.

      •  

        For Q4, have a look at officevibe.
        Anonymous random surveys that can give you an idea where you’re at.

  • +19 votes

    The social media and other non productive work is just a symptom of the problem. Engaged employees will be more productive. Look at how they are measured and inspired instead.

    •  

      Totally agree. Unfortunately, the work can be boring for some people (as it can sometimes not be stimulating enough) and one other thing is; no matter how much you do, you will never finish it. I will try to gather some ideas on engagement. Thanks for your response.

  • +3 votes

    Set productivity targets. Issue formal, written warnings if people don't meet them and are in social media excessively.

    Fire them if it persists.

    • -3 votes

      Nothing perks up a workforce more than a few sackings over a touchy subject. I’m all for it. Make an example of a few of the worst offenders. It lets the remaining workers know that management isn’t bluffing.

      It’s a win win, as the sacked workers were dead weight anyway and their workload can then be redistributed to the others to give them more to do.

      • +7 votes

        The problem is if the productive workers then decide this is a toxic workplace then they will start writing up their resumes, and they are the ones who will be able to get another job. Besides firing people is a serious process, in Australia, that has to follow certain protocols. If the employee you are making an example of can show that the process wasnt followed properly then the organisation can be liable for compensation.

        • +3 votes

          You know what pisses off productive workers more? Having to pick up the slack of the lazy ones while taking home the same pay packet.

          that has to follow certain protocols.

          Which is why formal written warnings before firing.

          • +4 votes

            @HighAndDry: what really pisses off all workers is not understanding what they need to be delivering and then people around them being arbitrarily fired. Clear deliverables is where you start and the firing is the last thing to consider as it can be messy. Thinking firing people will improve the workforce is, very likely, to backfire.

            •  

              @try2bhelpful: Literally the first line of my original comment is:

              Set productivity targets. Issue formal, written warnings

              Though if you worked in the public sector where it's impossible to fire anyone no matter how lazy or incompetent, I can understand why you think that:

              Thinking firing people will improve the workforce is, very likely, to backfire.

              • +2 votes

                @HighAndDry: I was responding to your later comment; not your first one. Firing people is unsettling to those around them.

                There are protocols in place to fire anyone, you just have to go through them - this applies to both the private and public workplace.

                I would be interested in your first hand experience of the public sector; given you think that it is almost impossible to fire someone from there. My experience is any large "industry" is indistinguisable in the public and private service.

        • -4 votes

          @try2: Your replies are the exact reason I have you blocked.

      •  

        Thanks, and I agree, but as try2bhelpful has mentioned below.

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