Q: According to a trusted colleague, one of my employees recently called in sick when he was actually taking a trip to the beach. Although “Greg” is a bright guy with lots of potential, I have previously had some concerns about his work ethic. However, this was just a general impression with no specific evidence.
Even though I feel certain that Greg lied, I’m not sure how to handle it. If I make an accusation without any proof, that may offend him and damage our relationship. On the other hand, Greg shouldn’t be allowed to get away with lying, and I don’t want to be a spineless manager. What should I do?
A: Discussing performance problems can be awkward when the information is second-hand. Typically, employees will deny wrongdoing and demand to know who made the allegations. From there, the discussion can easily deteriorate into a pointless argument about infractions which cannot be conclusively proven.
To avoid wandering into this pit of conversational quicksand, try using the “if-then” approach. Instead of directly accusing Greg of misconduct, describe what you have been told, then explain the likely consequence if such a transgression were to occur. This method is especially useful with a relatively minor first offense.
For example: “Greg, I’ve heard that when you called in sick last week, you were actually on your way to the beach. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m not trying to find out. However, I want to emphasize that lying is a serious breach of trust which would warrant a disciplinary warning. We don’t need to discuss it further, but I do want to be clear about the consequences if this were to happen in the future.”
If Greg proclaims his innocence, say there’s no need to debate the issue. If he asks who provided the information, tell him that’s confidential. Your goal is to simply deliver the message, be sure Greg understands, then end the meeting. Hopefully, this bright young man will take your warning seriously, but for now, his absences should be closely scrutinized.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.