HR Management & Compliance

Common Employee Excuses—and How You Should Respond

Mistakes happen, acknowledges Justin Gray, founder and CEO of LeadMD on But if you’re receiving certain excuses on a regular basis, you could have bigger problems. He identifies three worrisome excuses he’s heard and explains how to keep your organization focused on the solution, rather than the problem:

productivityI didn’t know I was allowed to do that. Gray allows this excuse to slide one time because it’s actually valid. As he says, it’s less of an excuse and more of a lightbulb moment for you and the employee.

At LeadMD, management makes clear that no rules or job descriptions are written in stone. They empower their employees to change anything at any time and not be afraid to try new things; the only thing employees aren’t “allowed” to do is to assume the answer is “no.” If you empower your employees in this way, Gray says, they should be willing to admit when they need help and quick to step in for a coworker who needs assistance.

  1. I didn’t know where to find the answer. Gray urges employers to give employees license to ask as many questions as possible. The great employees are the ones who, when they encounter a problem, ask themselves why it happens instead of just saying “This sucks.” After all, you can’t find the answer if you don’t know what you’re looking for in the first place.

You shouldn’t expect people to know how to solve every single issue that comes up, of course—complex problems require collaboration. Encourage your teams to break down barriers to get to the root cause of problems. (Hint: The answer frequently lies in your processes.)

  1. I just don’t work well with [coworker name]. Conflict between coworkers is a reality, and in fact, high performers are sometimes difficult to work with. But an inability to arrive at a mutual understanding limits employees’ productivity and hurts the entire company.

You must foster a collective mind-set that encourages empathy and promotes the desire to understand others’ positions. If you assume everyone is truly doing his or her best, it means every conflict arises out of an inability to understand another person, not some sense of malice.

Avoid allowing friction to continue simply because there’s so much to get done. Sweeping discord under the rug stunts the value employees can bring to the company, and this excuse will pop up repeatedly.

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