Employee Attention Problems

Should an employer try to train a worker on attention, focus, and work discipline ó and if so, how? August 15, 2011

Is there a resource to help me understand the management of employees when they fail to develop emotional maturity? I have a very capable young man but he seems to have stopped growing at about eleven years of age. He is in his early twenties and has good potential. When things get challenging he reverts to a "pre-teen." He makes excuses, acts confused when asked simple questions and basically needs a "time-out" in order to get his head back in the game. I have seen this type of behavior in others that I did not care about. I can dump him like a rock if he is not workable. Did I used to be like this twenty years ago? I am investing my time and effort to train him. He is pretty sharp and I'd like to help him and keep him around. I would like to see a book or article about this behavior. I would also like to hear from others that a good outcome is within his grasp.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor Y:
It depends on the risk to your business and risk would including losing time and money into training someone to grow up. We have the same situation in our own firm. We have a sales guy in his mid-twenties who acts the same way as you describe. But we don't have time to hold hands and raise him so we plan on letting him/her go and are actively looking for his/her replacement.

From contributor T:
Are you running a business, or going into practice with Dr. Phil? If it's the former, I would suggest you drop him like a rock. If it's the latter, good luck!

From contributor U:
Be careful. It is wonderful when someone takes the time to help anyone develop into a better person, and or employee. However, mixing this role of being a mentor and an employer can be harmful to your business. I have been guilty of trying to help employees grow, especially when it is obvious they have had no good role models in their life. I have actually worked both of my sons (and many other young men) and I believe working with my own sons has helped me see something that is lacking in our younger generations.

I believe it is a proven fact that people are not maturing until later ages as compared to our and earlier generations. It can be very rewarding when you help someone, but maybe you should predetermine some guidelines on just how far you are willing to go. Even if you let someone go, you can always offer assistance (guidance) outside of the workplace. This can be a good test of the personís willingness to grow. The last two people I dismissed that always wanted my lessons when at work, never showed back up for any continuing meetings to help them with personal growth after they were let go. Go figure. Oh yea, I'm in my early fifties and I was still blooming way into my thirties.

From contributor W:
I'm sorry to say that you're experiencing the new entitlement generation first hand. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to use a sports analogy. Decades ago (when some of us were kids) you would earn a trophy playing sports only when you won an actual team championship, or maybe led the league in scoring. Today every kid gets a trophy just for participating - regardless of whether they perform or even show up to play. As far as I'm concerned this act of coddling and political correctness has created a whole entitlement generation of kids that has become accustomed to getting rewarded for anything and everything. And now that they're adults (and I use that term loosely) they expect to get praised and rewarded simply for showing up at work. Don't waste your time trying to be a therapist - I've tried it myself, and failed every time. Instead, recognize that not all younger people are cut from the same cloth, and focus your energies of finding and retaining the cream of the crop.

From contributor R:
Sounds like books on emotional intelligence might help. You can look them up on Amazon. Daniel Golman has written several books on the subject. This doesn't sound like a serious case, just a lack of confidence in being able to work through a problem. Is his behavior disruptive to the workplace? Do you have a formal review process with employees? Have you discussed this behavior with the employee? Does he recognize a problem? In my experience as a manager if the employee recognizes the problem and understands the implications they can be helped if they get angry and resentful there is little hope.

From contributor T:
Let's take this a step further. Maybe our advice should have included hiring the drill sergeant turned psychologist from the Geico advertisement. He could then have been instructed to throw the above referenced book at this kid instead of the box of tissues! Clearly, we are involved in our business to make a profit while producing a cost effective, quality product. Part of that is to properly reward our employees with fair wages and realistic benefits while providing a safe work environment. Recognizing that some employees may need a little more motivation to achieve our goals and theirs doesn't mean that we are additionally required to be therapists.

I operate in an area populated by the Amish communities. You will find that none of the young Amish kids need any motivation or psycho-therapy to do a fair days work for a fair days pay because they're not coddled from the onset. They clearly understand accountability, a characteristic that many American non-Amish have failed to grasp. I still suggest you stop taking time to change this person and terminate his employment.

From contributor G:
Some people are just late bloomers, I know I was! I have had many an employee even older folks who were just not mature enough to recognize that when they make mistakes (which happen) an excuse is the last thing someone wants to hear. I had an employee when I was a deputy mayor of my town and he just couldnít accept responsibility for his failure to follow instructions. He even went so far as to complain to the oversight dept in the national government about his treatment.

I started the process to remove him from his position and after I finished my term he was voted out of his position by the councilmen. The sad fact is to this day (some two and a half years latter) he canít even say hello without cursing at me for having him fired.

From contributor U:
Interesting thought as the parents are a large part of this situation. We recently hired our main shop employee's son on a temp. basis, just finishing high school and had some extra time. It was interesting (and a little frustrating) watching the father supervise his own son. The young man did a pretty decent job, when we could get him focused. The father confessed to me that the son had never been disciplined by him, and gave me quite a few reasons for not doing so (none acceptable). Since this was a short term deal, I pretty much watched and bided my time until we no longer needed the young man, and was glad to see him go. I know I could have got onto his case, but I have a good working relationship with the dad and did not want to rock that boat for a short term gain. In short, a lot of the young people hunting jobs have no work ethic, or discipline to learn any, but once in a while you find that rare gem.

From the original questioner:
That book is a genuine opportunity. I like to learn about personalities for better or worse. It is easy to discount others and often hard to understand them. I know from experience that simplistic (locker room) put downs don't create any kind of solution. They demonstrate the weak grasp of the accuser. As these things go, he is a good worker so he stays - for now. I am training and not babysitting. This is professional and not personal. It is a classic cost benefit analysis. If he can't come into his own I will drop him. My job is growing a workforce (company) that crafts quality and profit. It is my job to grasp the human aspect as well as I the raw material and process aspect. The good worker is a rare gem as mentioned. Whatís left are the rest of us.

From contributor O:
We hired a teenager last summer, who when he worked was pretty good for an untrained individual. He was your typical attention deficit poster boy. His biggest problem was he just couldn't shut up. We eventually had to insist he wear his hearing protection at all times, just to stop him from talking. One issue with the younger crowd is that they text message their friends in order to communicate. Every time I did my walk around the shop, he was in the bathroom. He was hiding out to chat with his friends, which would be fine during breaks but not during work time. He is back in school, but asked if he could come back next summer. His work is very good but I am not sure he will have made it past his nonstop talking, so I am not sure I can take him back. I am inclined to say no, because when he talks the others stop to listen and that is not good.

From the original questioner:
Some of that already came and went down the road. Pretty grim when you stop your sweaty dangerous work and wonder where the helper is - oh surprise he is around behind the lumber pile texting his buddy.

From contributor U:
I believe we all have been less than we now are. If you think back you can realize where previous employers helped you come along and also many fellow employees contributed to your development. Education, parents and training also help, but it is the sum total of all these things. I actually am ashamed sometimes to think of my poor performance in some of my previous jobs. I was actually fired once (and I deserved it), but I like to think it helped me to improve and become a better person. While I have also fired more people than I would like to remember, I have also tried to give something back by at least trying to help quite a few people become better employees. How can you expect someone to act or perform a certain way if they have never seen an example or been taught? It would be nice if well qualified and trained people were constantly applying for jobs in my business, the sad truth is they very seldom do.

From contributor Y:
I've been fortunate to have two really good teachable employees in their thirties and forties. But I have daughters who date guys in their twenties. One is actually 32 but still acting 22. Attention Deficit Disorder has been mentioned, and is a real factor with the video game generation. Commitment is another factor, both personal and job-related; many young guys just don't seem to have it. Parental coddling is rampant - one previous boyfriendís mom still cuts the meat on his plate before serving him dinner! The only teenager or twenty-something I'd work with is one who shows a genuine spark of interest in the work itself.