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How do I deal with people in the business who have been here for years and are coasting?

You know the type – people who achieve the bare minimum, who just about meet the requirements of their job but whose focus is clearly elsewhere. We asked one of our People Directors, Sarah McLean, for tips on managing people who are ‘coasting’.

A ‘coaster’ might not consider themselves a problem. After all, they’re showing up for work and going through the motions. But it does affect the team around them, says Sarah McLean. ‘When that person ceases to be a promoter, they become a detractor,’ she says. ‘Their impact on the team becomes negative and they become a “drain” rather than a “radiator” in the business.’

Address ‘draining’ behaviour

A change in behaviour can happen quickly or gradually, but it’s important to address it when you see it. Sarah recommends being as informal as possible at first. ‘You could remark on it in an appraisal or catch up,’ she says. ‘Say what you’ve observed and then give them an opportunity to elaborate on that. It needn’t be a criticism at this stage because they’re probably still delivering to the requirements of the role.’

Offer support

An informal chat might uncover if there’s something going on at home or if there’s a health issue that they’d need support with. ‘A good working relationship means being open enough for these things to be discussed, or at least try to head it off before it becomes a performance management issue,’ says Sarah. ‘But you have to use your own judgement as to when one becomes the other. Sometimes it’s about using your intuition.’

Combat boredom

In some cases it could just be the fact that a person has been doing the same thing for too long. ‘People do need to have some stretch and excitement,’ says Sarah. ‘More of the same doesn’t inspire them. They generally want to learn and develop.’ Remember that learning and developing doesn’t necessarily need to be upwards, it can be sideways into a new area or gaining expertise. Could you inspire your coaster to become the go-to person in an area valuable to your business?

Celebrate their efforts

Recognising the work people put in can also prevent them becoming demoralised. ‘It’s not just about achievement, it’s also about effort and commitment,’ says Sarah. ‘Sometimes the end output may be out of their hands. But you can recognise the way they delivered something, especially if it makes a difference to their colleagues.’

Having that conversation

If you’ve addressed all of these issues but the behaviour isn’t changing, then you might need to accept that they’ve lost interest and are a flight risk. ‘You can tell when someone’s engagement is diminished to the point that they’ve decided to move on but they’re not doing anything about it,’ says Sarah.

This is when it becomes a performance issue and you may need to have a conversation about their future in the business. ‘We don’t conscript people into work, there are choices that need to be made,’ says Sarah. ‘Different jobs or opportunities, different growth and development paths could be discussed.’ Having these conversations can be difficult, but help is out there. ‘Leadership training can help you gain techniques so you can make explicit what is expected in the workplace,’ Sarah adds.

The impact of not acting

It’s important to address coasting behaviour because others in the team might start to wonder why they’re putting in so much effort. ‘If you have a culture that carries poor performance generally, it can be very demoralising for other people who are putting in the hard yards,’ says Sarah. In other words, get your drains in order and the radiators will look after themselves.

If you’d like help firing up your team for the challenges ahead, take a look at the HR mentoring and guidance that our People Directors offer businesses, or find out more by calling us on 0808 164 5826.

Sarah McLean

Sarah McLean, People Director

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