#PandemicAndBeyond - Dilemma 3: tough love

23 September 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond

In the third dilemma of our Pandemic and Beyond series, we consider what to do when a member of the team is not meeting their targets.

Julian is young and ambitious. His brilliant academic achievements secured him, a few years ago, a good position as a graduate trainee in a well-known investment management firm which he loves. Pressures are high and the environment is fast paced, but he enjoys the buzz. Just before the Covid-19 outbreak, he was promoted to managerial level and now he has a team of five people reporting to him.

It is his first role of this kind, so he is determined to demonstrate that he can be trusted to do a good job. At the beginning it was a bit difficult, especially because the team had to learn how to work remotely, and the option of working from home had been actively discouraged in the past. However, as soon as the threat of Covid-19 became real, the powers above were adamant: they did not want any problems with people potentially becoming infected and they wanted to be seen as caring for their staff, in a sector that is often under the spotlight for extremely stressful working conditions and, sometimes, even disregard for employees’ wellbeing. Until further notice, everyone had to work from home. 

After an initial adjustment, things seemed to settle well and – something that Julian had been particularly concerned about – the team’s productivity returned to be more than satisfactory. The only exception is Angela, a single mother of two and the only woman in Julian’s team. Angela has always been a reliable member of the team and she seemed to be good at leaving her somewhat turbulent private life at home rather than bringing it to the office. However, it is obvious that she is struggling with home-schooling her two kids, especially now that she can’t get a nanny to come in and help. After a few weeks, things got so bad that Julian’s boss himself called him to warn him: “This is not acceptable, Julian. This woman has become a burden for the team and you need to do something about it. This is a business, not a charity, and if you want your career to really take off you need to prove yourself!”

What should Julian do?

(a)    Fire Angela. Everybody knows that’s what happens at the firm when people don’t meet their targets.
(b)    Talk to the rest of the team and ask them to take on some of Angela’s work temporarily, until things get back to normal.
(c)    Discuss Angela’s options with HR and see if it is possible to make an exception so that Angela can work from the office, with one of the people that usually works in the firm’s currently-closed day care service looking after her kids when she is not at home. 
(d)    Tell his boss that this year they will have to reset their team targets downwards because of the exceptional circumstances and Julian should be prepared to face the consequences of this.