I am often asked by CEOs about how to handle employees who don’t seem to care. These employees come in late to work, take excessive time off, and don’t always get along with their fellow employees. Sometimes, it’s even higher up (management team members).
Obviously, you can threaten them with reprimands or termination, but different people can react very differently to this type of threat. Some will push back, others will rebel, and some will just ignore it. If you are lucky, the offending employee will straighten out, but he/she will probably be resentful. I have found that appealing to their sense of fairness is often more productive.
Most CEOs, as well as their employees, don’t realize that each party has entered into a “social contract.”
Create a Social Contract
A social contract is an unwritten bargain between the two parties governing what each person brings to the deal. The employer/employee social contract simply states that the employer gives the employee wages and benefits in exchange for the employee’s work. But it actually goes much deeper. I find that when an employer explains the social contract to the employee, the results are often better than those achieved through threats and sanctions.
Case in Point
Here is an example: Let’s suppose you have an employee who is disruptive, or frequently comes in late, or has any number of other issues. You need to explain the social contract and its obligations to the employee. Here is how that conversation might go: “As your employer, I provide you with good wages. I provide you with good benefits (health insurance, dental, 401k, etc.). I pay you for holidays and your vacation time. I provide you with a great work environment. You have a nice work space/office that’s heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer. And most of all, I treat you with respect… And for all of this, I only ask a few things of you in return: that you show up on time, work the designated hours you are supposed to, perform your job (or meet you objectives and goals), and get along with your fellow employees. That’s our deal, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask of you for everything I do for you.”
A Reciprocity Reminder
Not surprisingly, most employees “get” this. They intuitively understand the bargain that’s in place, and can see how they aren’t upholding their end of it. It goes back to our sense of fairness — of what’s right and wrong. You just have to put it in terms they can understand. Most of them never thought of it this way. They mentally disconnect their wages, benefits, and environment from what is required of them. Believe it or not, they don’t see it as a reciprocal arrangement. However, once it is brought to their attention, it makes perfect sense to them.
Get Started Today
I can’t guarantee that every employee with a problem will react this way, but it works on a lot of them. So the next time you are struggling for a way to get an employee to change their behavior, have the “social contract” discussion and see what kind of results you get. If appealing to their sense of fairness doesn’t work, then you are no longer bound by the social contract yourself. It’s a reciprocal arrangement, and if one party doesn’t uphold their end of the bargain, then the other party is free to withdraw from the deal.