By Ann Boehm, May 16, 2023
Our FELTG classes on performance and misconduct emphasize that before supervisors take action against a problem employee, they try everything else first.
Reassignment is one of the suggested things to try.
I worked in the Federal government long enough to realize that, too often, reassignment means “dump the bad employees over there.” That’s not a good solution to a problem employee situation. But there can be reassignments that benefit the supervisor, the employee, and the agency! The key is being creative and flexible enough to figure out whether the right reassignment exists.
In my own career, I had bosses I liked more, and bosses I liked less than others. Sometimes, my personality did not mesh with the supervisor – and that’s OK. Recognizing personality differences, and the impact they have on workplace interactions, is a good thing. One thing I believe in strongly is that there is no way to change someone’s personality – yours or the employee’s. Finding a supervisor whose personality meshes better with the employee may turn a bad employee to a good one – or at least a better one.
Another thing that can impact on an employee’s job satisfaction is organizational change. It could be a change in leadership, mission focus, work schedule – you name it. I used to joke that any time I said I loved my job, something would change to make me dislike it. Agencies are constantly changing.
When I found myself in an unhappy workplace situation, I took it upon myself to seek out details or other reassignment options in the agency. During my career, those efforts worked well for me.
Not all employees will have the confidence to seek out their own reassignments, even when they are miserable in a job. Sometimes, it is because they fear they will be labeled as a complainer. Sometimes, it is because they do not like change. But if a supervisor encourages that change, it may result in the colloquial “win-win” situation.
How does one go about suggesting a reassignment without it seeming like an attack on an employee? Often it starts with a conversation asking the employee if they are content with their position. That can morph into questions about whether they have thought about any other jobs within the agency that interest them. And with the information gathered, the supervisor can start to explore options.
Agencies typically have many vacancies. The old saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” has some truth to it. Hiring someone brand new can be a roll of the dice — could be great, or, yikes, even worse. There may be a good fit for an existing employee somewhere else, and it may not require too much effort to find it.
Also, a reassignment does not have to be permanent. A temporary detail is a good way to find out if the employee will be happy in the new position, and if the receiving supervisor is happy with the new employee.
If you are dealing with a problem employee, do a thoughtful analysis of the root cause of the issues. Think about reassignment as a possibility. It may be the best thing for everyone. And that’s Good News! Boehm@FELTG.com