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Night Walker: Harnessing That Late Sleeper

It’s one thing to lead and another to find that people actually follow you. What makes you want to follow some people and not others? I will try to keep these tips practical and useful enough so you can use them as soon as you’ve read them.

What do you do? Jim is a young two-year EMT who is scheduled to come on duty at 7 a.m. It’s the last day of his workweek. He shows up 40 minutes late, even after you have personally counseled him about his chronic tardiness. You have only been his supervisor for a couple of months, but your boss has given you instructions to “get rid of him” as a result of his two years of consistent, predictable tardiness. He’s never called in sick, and nobody can seem to recall any history of other disciplinary issues. The crews seem to like him, except for the fact they can’t count on him relieving them on time.

Your counseling session with Jim was a “freebie,” but when you met with him at the time, he seemed honestly contrite, and you remember liking his attitude. When you consult his file, you find no documentation of any kind of discipline. When you meet with him this time, he seems frustrated with himself. He tells you he has always had trouble waking up in the morning.

Answer: Some people are just born night-walkers and Jim may be one of them. If he is, you won’t be able to “fix” him—and you won’t need to. And if he is, it makes no sense to punish him for it. Besides, you will always need good night people. Since you don’t know him very well, consult his file and his last supervisor. If that’s not helpful, try asking him to come back at the end of his weekend with reference letters from three partners he’s worked with. Tell him to ask people to rate him overall as an EMT, and tell him those letters could save his job. Why do that? Night workers can be nightmares. Before you relegate him to those less visible hours, maybe you should learn a little about him.

If he produces those letters and they’re positive, tell Jim what you think has been happening. Offer him a night shift. Write a learning contract that tells him he absolutely must be punctual, and tell him that you are documenting this as a written warning that will expire in 120 days if his performance is satisfactory during that time.

What about your boss’ wishes? Well, bosses don’t have to be perfect, either. Maybe this time your boss was wr—, wr—, um…m…mistaken.

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