Sloppiness is one of the most common workplace problems. Examples include missing errors when proofreading company information, mis-packing orders, entering shipping addresses incorrectly, and performing inaccurate accounting work. Sloppiness most quickly surfaces in clerical work, but it is also prevalent in the work of many professionals—although it is much more difficult to detect!

For the first incidence or two of minor sloppiness, you should simply kindly point out the error to the employee. Don’t comment, but watch the person’s work more carefully.

Most People Take Pride in Their Work: Be Candid but Positive

If the problem proves to be recurrent or is more serious in nature, you need to sit down with the employee outside of the earshot of his or her coworkers. Be positive. Remember that the employee probably has no idea that his or her work is sloppy. Most people take pride in their work. But be candid. Tell the employee that you are concerned about the work and cite specific examples of sloppiness.

Relate the clearest or most serious infractions that you have evidence of. Don’t discuss marginal problems or ones that you have little evidence of. This can lead to arguments and a feeling of unfair treatment. The point is to assist an employee in performing up to snuff, not to demoralize him or her.

Encourage feedback, but expect to hear something like, “These are isolated examples. Everyone makes errors, and basically my work is fine.” At this point, don’t get into a long discussion about how serious or representative the cited problems are. Instead, shift to telling the employee how important his or her work is to the company.

Let the person know how important it is to eliminate all errors and sloppy work, no matter how infrequently it may occur or how insignificant it may seem to be. Try to end the meeting on as positive a note as possible.

Keep observing the employee’s work. If, after a few days, the work patterns are improving, be sure to compliment him or her. If the sloppiness continues, conduct another closed-door meeting.

There is a good chance that the employee is capable of better work and is simply refusing to recognize the existence of an ongoing problem. In this second meeting, make a judgmental statement, such as “I am concerned about the overall errors or sloppiness in your work.” Again, bring up the clearest or flagrant examples.

For a nonprofessional or entry-level employee, assign someone with good or exemplary work habits, especially in the problem employee’s area of weakness, to work side-by-side with the problem employee for a small portion of each day. Have the “monitoring” employee suggest specific steps for achieving performance improvement. Have the monitor provide continuing feedback. Personally monitor the work of a professional employee. Discuss any progress, or lack of it, every few days.

As long as an employee has the basic skills necessary to effectively perform in the job, sloppiness can be overcome in almost every case. It only takes the efforts of a manager who is willing to invest time, and tries, no matter how frustrating it may be, to adopt a coaching rather than a reprimanding approach.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Stick to clear and serious infractions when discussing sloppy work.
  • Nonprofessional and entry-level employees can be teamed up with exemplary workers to promote better habits.