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Helping 'problem workers' -- supervisors might start with themselves

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Mardy Grothe thinks part of the so-called "problem of the American worker" can be solved by taking a bit of conventional management wisdom and standing it on its head:

"Most employees aren't very pleased with the performance of their supervisors ," Dr. Grothe says. If a company has employees who are giving it trouble, he believes, managers should look at themselves first.

If they did, he says, they might reduce the number of American workers known as "problem workers" -- people who don't produce, who can't get to work on time, who are rude to clients and customers, who almost never put in any extra time, or who will not follow instructions.

"When you've got a problem employee," he notes, "you've really got a problem relationship between somebody who works and somebody who manages."

Grothe, a counseling psychologist who lives in Lincoln, Mass., and Dr. Peter Wylie, an industrial psychologist in Washington, D.C., have spent much of the past several years dealing with problem employees -- and problem managers. As partners in Performance Improvement Associates, a consulting firm, they have held seminars at trade association meetings and in corporate offices on how to deal with troublesome workers.

Most recently, they collaborated on a book, "Problem Employees: How to Improve Their Performance" (Pitman Learning Inc., 6 Davis Drive, Belmont, Calif. 94002, $16.95). Grothe says the book is the result of taking the material presented in the seminars and breaking it down into its "component parts."

Beginning with explanations on how to analyze an employee's performance to setting up and handling a performance improvement interview, the book gives clear, step-by-step directions on how to identify problems, what questions to ask, how to answer questions from the employees, and negotiating performance agreements. For neophyte supervisors, it even gives examples of how to say things. For instance: "Pat, I'd like to arrange a time to meet with you to review your work performance. It's something I'm planning to do with everybody in the office."

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