Your Office Coach: To end unfair vacation policy, point out the cost

June 28, 2014 

In our company, most people get away with taking much more vacation than they should. These employees have bosses who allow them to keep their own records, while the rest of us work for managers who monitor our use of leave. As a result, we get less time off than everyone else.

Although policy states that leave requests must be approved, most managers simply put their employees on the honor system. Unfortunately, a lot of these people aren't very honorable. One guy from another department took off an entire week to move and never recorded it. But when my co-worker moved, she had to use vacation time.

Our boss agrees that this situation is unfair. However, she doesn't want to break the rules, and she has no power to change the behavior of her peers. Human resources would normally be expected to enforce the leave policy, but our HR manager has his own employees on the honor system. What can be done about this?

Through either naivety or laziness, these misguided managers have mistakenly chosen to rely on trust in an area where oversight is required. Whenever something of value goes unsupervised, ethically challenged people will always be tempted to cheat. This applies to cash, vacation time, or a basket of candy left on the porch for Halloween.

Since this problem can only be resolved by top management, you will need to raise awareness at the executive level. Under normal circumstances, human resources would be your natural ally. But since that option is out, perhaps your boss can convince other compliant managers to become advocates for enforcing the policy.

While fairness is undeniably important, nothing grabs the attention of executives like focusing on financials. For that reason, policy supporters should clearly demonstrate how much all this free leave time is costing the company. Once management sees the price tag, the honor system may quickly become a thing of the past.

One of my staff members constantly tells her colleagues how to do their work. "Tracy" is a good employee, but this domineering attitude alienates her co-workers. I have hinted to Tracy that she needs to improve her communication skills, but that hasn't done any good. Our disciplinary policy allows managers to write up difficult employees as "unable to supervise." Should that be my next step?

If you believe you are "unable to supervise" Tracy, it may be time to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Ironically, she seems to be more comfortable giving feedback than you are. So instead of dropping hints or taking disciplinary action, you need to put on your manager hat and initiate some performance coaching.

Start by helping Tracy understand the problems created by her dictatorial behavior, then work with her to develop an improvement plan. If she makes no effort to change, a formal warning may eventually be in order. But you should not conclude that you are "unable to supervise" her until you actually attempt to do so.

Marie G. McIntyre, a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics," takes questions and gives free coaching tips at yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter@officecoach.

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