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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 147 – While sick patients are waiting, he’s vaping. What can I do about my terrible colleague?

No. 147 – While sick patients are waiting, he’s vaping. What can I do about my terrible colleague?

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20 March 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: an absent coworker, a happy casual and demotivating bonus incentive.

I work in tandem with another rostered emergency specialist. He is renowned for being glued to his seat doing admin in public view. This behaviour occurs even when there are many sick or injured patients to see. I am routinely left supervising the vast majority of our patients, and junior doctors and nurses hurry to me for advice about my colleague’s few patients when he disappears on his regular vaping breaks. I approached my boss who said I wasn’t allowed to criticise a colleague’s work ethic. Should I approach HR?

You definitely need to speak to someone since it sounds like you are unhappy with someone you are regularly rostered to work with. Have you tried talking to the person concerned? What does he say about your observations that the patient load isn’t shared equally? If you can raise your concerns with him, and he still fails to adjust his approach, I think you can speak to someone in HR about your concerns. Given your boss may not support your perspective, I would document your concerns and make sure you have clear data or evidence to show what is happening that you think is unfair. But doing so really will escalate things, so I would prioritise trying to work this through with the other person first.

I work as a casual teacher and have been experiencing pressure to apply for a permanent role. While I love my job, I also like being casual as I prioritise my family first. I have explained this many times, but each time a position closes I feel negative energy. What I haven’t told my school is that I also have a second job, which tops up my wages during school holidays. I feel like I haven’t been honest. What should I do?

It sounds like the arrangement you have is working for you. I think you can explain why you don’t want to go permanent and mention your other job, but that is completely up to you. The bigger question is why you feel the school is reacting negatively to you for being casual and whether not wanting to go permanent could, at some stage, risk your casual role.

Have you considered having a chat with the person at the school you are feeling the most pressure from to understand what is driving their concerns? There might be some factors you are not aware of which they can explain. You can also, if you choose, let them know why being casual works for you and your personal circumstances. I would reassure the school that staying casual does not mean for a moment you are not committed to your role and make sure they understand in case they are interpreting your unwillingness to take on a permanent position as being due to something else.

My son works for a company whose bonus requires achieving 30 KPIs. If he does not achieve them all, he does not receive a bonus. Last quarter, he achieved 29 and received no bonus. It seems that an “all-or-none” approach is working as a disincentive rather than an incentive. He might as well not try and achieve any KPIs because, under this arrangement, his bonus would still be zero. Your thoughts?

There is a technical name for the mechanics of the bonus you describe: a cliff incentive. That is, you either achieve everything or you get nothing. While they are a demotivating aspect of incentive plans, many places still have them in place thinking it will motivate people to stretch for that ultimate target number. As you correctly describe, all that actually happens is as soon as people realise the target can never be achieved, they give up altogether.

It may be that the person who has constructed this bonus system hasn’t considered some of the unintended consequences. There must be others, like your son, who are experiencing how it works first-hand and could potentially speak to their boss about the impact it is having. Hopefully, a review of the bonus structure will lead to a fairer arrangement such as a sliding or graduated scale where he might receive 100 per cent of his bonus for achieving 30 KPIs and 50 per cent for achieving 15 KPIs, for example.

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