Most managers, when faced with situations like phony sickies, employ a very common, yet very limiting, strategy, according to Shaun Belding, CEO of the internationally-renowned North American Belding Group of Companies, which helps companies develop and measure customer service and employee performance.
‘We take a kind of `proportional response’ approach when an employee lies to us,’ he says. ‘When someone calls in `sick’, only to be found at the golf course an hour later, we give them a stern look. When someone is found ‘enhancing’ their expense report, they get a slap on the wrist.
‘It takes a truly dramatic falsehood to warrant us actually terminating someone’s employment.’
However, Shaun recommends a controversial, no holds barred, no excuses, no second chances, don’t pass go, don’t collect $200 approach.
‘As harsh as it sounds, the only appropriate and effective response to an employee who lies to you, whether it is a ‘little white lie’ or a bald-faced doozie, is to set that employee free.
‘No second chances. Yup, you heard right: Fire them. Let them go. Release them. Terminate them. Sack them. Lose them. Give them the boot. Whatever words you use to describe it, or legal hoops you have to jump through to get there, cease their employment with your company as soon as you can.
‘Participants in our team-building programs consistently identify `lack of trust’ as the single greatest roadblock to effective teamwork.
‘Trust in the workplace can only be established through complete honesty and openness from each team member.
‘And, as a manager, the only real tool you have for establishing a trusting atmosphere is to not accept ‘conditional honesty’ – either from your employees, or yourself.
‘All it takes is for you to let one person get away with one falsehood to compromise all of your other team efforts. Yes, it is one of those difficult `tough love’ things, but the end result is always positive.’
As sure-footed as this way of handling workplace trust sounds, is it truly realistic? Is it also really fair on the employee – and their colleagues – not to offer a second chance if the lie hasn’t been too injurious to business or other people?
After all, there could be a valid underlying reason for the white lie – emotional or domestic problems, carer issues (whether involving children, elderly relatives or sick family members) and so forth they they may be too nervous, fearfu;l or embarrassed to discuss with you openly.
SPA+CLINIC asked respected Australian salon, spa and clinic management coach Pam Stellema, founder of SalonSavy, for her views on the subject in the context of our industry.
‘I don’t think that lying about a sickie is trivial for a salon owner who is left with a column full of clients who can’t be serviced,’ Pam says. ‘This has a serious impact in several ways:
- Clients whose appointments are cancelled at the last minute will be very disgruntled and will often seek out services with a competitor. This can easily lead to the permanent loss of the client, leading to thousands of dollars of lost revenue in a year; possibly even tens of thousands over the lifetime of a client.
- Lost service revenue can have a serious impact on a salon owner, especially if he or she is struggling to maintain cash flow.
- It adds an enormous amount of stress to the salon owner, which can lead to eventual burnout.
- It also causes the salon owner to lose trust in that employee which is hard to rebuild. It may even cause him or her to lose trust in all employees, and that’s an unfortunate thing to have happen.’
Pam believes that the salon owner may have a communication problem with team members if they feel the need to throw a sickie and let the rest of the team down.
‘If an employee needs to have a day off for a genuine reason, they should feel they can approach the boss in advance to organise it and not leave it to the last minute, when it sends the salon into chaos.
‘If the employee seems truly sorry for having lied when the consequences of their actions have been explained to them, I would offer a second chance – but only the one and only for a minor lie.
‘If, as the boss, you are seen to be too easygoing with this kind of behaviour, it won’t be long before all the staff are giving it a go.’
HOW TO HANDLE A FIRST OFFENCE
‘If you catch out an employee lying to you, it needs to be dealt with immediately,’ says Pam. ‘Not doing so gives the employee the impression that they’ve ‘got away with it’ and this can lead to bigger and `better’ things.
‘A sit-down conversation explaining the impact on the salon, the other team members and the clients is more likely to result in improved behaviour.
‘I would guard against penalising the staff member, as it usually only results in what I refer to as ‘silent sabotage’. They take revenge of some sort against the boss.
‘I’ve seen this happen in many salons and it never turns out well either for the employee or the employer.
‘If the lie was serious enough to warrant a penalty, then it’s probably serious enough to warrant a dismissal.’
HOW MANY CHANCES TO GIVE
It can be a difficult choice to let a staff member go if they are good at what they do and are popular with clients.
But if they push the boundaries one too many times, says Pam, it’s time to assess how valuable they really are to the overall future of the business, and in view of the impact it inevitable has on the behaviour and performance of other team members.
‘If the lie was not about money theft or caused the loss of a client, then I would say one warning only,’ Pam believes.
‘It most definitely does have a knock-on effect. In my own experience of managing hundreds of employees, the other staff always know what’s really going on.’
However, Pam warns against expecting or pressuring team members to expose a fellow employee who has lied about things like fake sickies, even if it has negatively impacted on them and the business.
you or thyou can’t really expect team members to expose a fellow employee, even though they may be aware of what is going on.
‘While they may want to be honest with the salon owner and tell him/her what they know is going on, they simply don’t feel right ratting out a fellow employee,’ Pam says.
‘On the other hand, poor behaviour – including lying – if not dealt with sends a very bad message to all employees that if one can do it without retribution, then it’s okay for everyone to have a go.
‘Naturally they are going to emulate the poor behaviour if they see there are no consequences to it.’
So the responsibility to ‘come clean’ with an errant employee rests with you as a business owner or manager.
LIES THAT SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED
‘Lies about money, a client or a team member – these should never be overlooked or excused. Ever.’
HANDLING THE DISMISSAL PROCESS TO AVOID BACKLASH
‘Business owners and managers should seek advice from their professional associations [such as the Hair and Beauty Australia Industry Association – HABA] or a company that specialises in employee relations, HR practices and laws [such as Workforce Guardian] before dismissing an employee to ensure they are on solid legal ground,’ says Pam.
‘These associations often have arrangements with legal entities who can offer the right advice.
‘If a manager in this situation is not a member of a quality association, they should get legal advice from a firm that specialises in this area of law.’
EDUCATE AND INVOLVE THE TEAM
‘Many employees live in a dream world,’ says Pam. ‘They have never had to worry about how they are going to pay the wages , rent or BAS payments.
‘They simply collect their wages for hours worked and forget about any issues the salon owner may have to face.
‘To counter this and make employees aware of the impact of their behaviour, I encourage salon owners to share the reality of owning a salon with their team. ‘ lots of truthful communication.
‘Let the team see what it costs to keep the doors open or what the consequences are when a client is lost.
‘If more employees understood what it was like to be the salon owner, instead of thinking that all the money they see in the cash register is pure profits, then I think that they would be less inclined to do things to hurt the salon that’s paying their wages.’