Managing Yourself with the Developmentally Impaired Employee

Managers call me in to help them deal with developmentally impaired employees because they are flat out difficult to supervise. But, before we can work on the employee problem we often have to work on the reaction of the manager. As you may have experienced, these employees can be exasperating and push all your buttons.

You know how the flight attendant tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before you take care of your kids? Well, you need to have your oxygen mask on when dealing with these stressful workers. What does this mean? It means you need to breathe slowly, and see the problem as an unfortunate occurrence in the work environment. No matter how hard you try, some of these people will get hired into your organization and not perform.

Managers tend to take the response of the impaired employee personally. After all, managers are supposed to be responsible for the performance of their people, right? When a worker is stubborn and uncooperative it feels personal. “They are deliberately refusing to listen to me!”

But it is not personal; these employees don’t really listen to anyone. In fact, they often react in opposition to supervision from others. Many of them grew up parented in a way that would make anyone react. So, it takes a bit of self confidence and comfort in your management skin to implement a plan.

Having a plan and believing in it can help you breathe better. The plan is a carefully administered program of clarified expectations, support and encouragement, monitoring, and specific consequences. Such a plan can always work. The plan gets the employee on track or gets them off the bus. Either solution has to be acceptable to you. Your job is not to save anyone, but to ensure (through support and structure) the necessary high performance of your organization.

So, if you have one of these employees, I encourage you to be compassionate. You can be concerned for the employee and the company. “I’m sorry something is wrong, but your performance and the expectations for your job are not matching up. I’d like to help you perform in a way that is good for our organization, and allows you to stay with us.” If the employee can’t recover and perform, then their employment should be terminated.

Take time to breathe, implement your plan, and don’t take the employee reaction personally. When you handle the developmentally impaired employee in this way, you can orchestrate a healthy outcome and be proud of it.

Tom DeMaio, PhD

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