Welcome to the Vital Integrities Blog

Don't Drop The Ball With Troubled Employees

I often hear from clients about an excellent employee whose performance suddenly and mysteriously changes. What, my clients want to know, causes great workers to become so-so employees. Many managers attribute performance slides to an employee's incompetence, or condemn the individual for slacking off or growing complacent. Other explanations include burnout or being an overall misfit. But what if work is not the underlying issue?

From 1987 to 1995, Mackey Sasser was a major league baseball catcher. In 1990, his best year in the majors, he had a .307 batting average and an on-base percentage of .344 while playing for the New York Mets. But soon after joining the team, Sasser developed an inexplicable problem: he lost his ability to perform the seemingly routine task of throwing the ball back to the pitcher.

Sasser had no difficulty throwing out runners trying to steal second base, mind you. It was only after catching a pitch and tossing the ball back to the mound that he struggled. He would often double pump – or even triple or quadruple pump – the ball before finally letting it go.

Opponents began taking advantage of Sasser's problem and timing their steal attempts to coincide with his hesitations. Mets crowds soon began counting out loud whenever he pumped the ball, adding to his anxiety and embarrassment. Sports writers referred to "Sasser syndrome" and proclaimed, "Sasser's throwing his career away." The Mets traded him in 1992, and by 1995 the problem had ended his career in professional baseball.

While he was still playing, Sasser consulted numerous coaches and sports psychologists in an attempt to understand his problem. But it wasn't until years later, when he began working with psychotherapist David Grand, that he realized the underlying cause of his inability to freely release a throw to the pitcher. His problem, it turns out, had nothing to do with the process of throwing; he was being haunted by a series of traumatic childhood events and playing injuries.

Performance problems at work are not always addressable by a boss. As managers, most of us are not equipped to diagnose, much less solve, employee issues with deep-seated roots. Sudden changes in a good employee's behavior might signal work frustrations, or personal problems that require professional therapy. That's why companies have Employee Assistance Programs.

Don't let good employees with personal troubles throw away their careers. Make certain that all of your employees know about your EAP and understand how they can get help.
Bookmark this post on del.icio.us

What do you think? Post a Comment
Vital Integrities Blog - Blogged