Managing “Retired On Active Duty” Employees


(Chris’ video of this blog post was featured on Blanchard’s Leadership Livecast on January 25, 2012.)

At a recent leadership training session, some of the managers and supervisors taking the course revealed they were struggling with direct reports who were getting close to retirement age. Some of these team members weren’t working hard. Some weren’t working AT ALL. They referred to these staff as “retired on active duty.”

This is a US military term, used across the service branches, to reflect that a member is proactively NOT doing the work they are 1) supposed to do and 2)committed to do. They are months (or more) from being discharged and choose to disconnect do as little application of brain cells as possible.

This is NOT exclusively a military experience. A recent article in the Examiner.com describes the impact of this behavior in non-military work places. AND – it’s not just employees; leaders can retire “on the job,” as well.

Do you have ROAD Employees or Leaders?

What are the conditions that allow for staff to “retire on active duty”? Many employees and leaders are able to be productive and engaged right up to their retirement celebration. Why do some employees “bail out” of their workplace responsibilities while still on the payroll?

Leaders create what is “OK” in their teams, branches, plants, and divisions. Both of the key “enabling circumstances” of noted below fall on the shoulders of organization leaders.

The two greatest contributing factors are:

  • Unclear Goals – If the path to expected contributions isn’t clearly defined, any employee or leader will struggle to perform consistently. All performance plans should include clear definition of specific goal standards so there is no question about what is expected from the team member during the performance period. If clear goals have been defined and agreed to, you’re good.
  • Poor Accountability – This is the biggest contributor to a ROAD-friendly work environment (which you DON’T want). Once goal agreement is in place, leaders must coach players daily to ensure followers are on track to meet or exceed declared goals. If goals are missed and NOTHING HAPPENS, the subtle message is “goals aren’t really important around here.”

How Can YOU Effectively Manage a ROAD Employee?

Let’s assume you’ve addressed the first issue above and goal clarity is in place.

When faced with a non-performing employee, many leaders do NOTHING. They hope whatever problems exist will repair themselves and the employee will get back on track. HOPING the problem resolves itself is NOT a sustainable strategy.

Accountability for performance must be handled directly and non-judgmentally. As a leader, it is your job to manage consistent performance from all players while maintaining a healthy relationship with each person.

Research shows that a firm and caring approach, coaching the ROAD employee to resume proactive goal accomplishment, can resolve this issue in many cases.

In certain instances, the player isn’t “savable.” When every opportunity has been presented to align the employee’s performance to standards yet they do not engage, it is time for progressive discipline. Employees and leaders need to know that they cannot “hang out” and not perform in your work environment.

All of your employees know when a team member isn’t carrying their load – and they expect their leader to proactively deal with the ROAD employee. Do the right thing; engage these employees directly and without judgement, and coach them to contribution again.

The Ken Blanchard Companies will hold a Leadership Livecast webinar on this topic, “Quit and Stayed,” on January 25, 2012. Look for more details in the coming weeks on the Blanchard website.

Please share your insights about “ROAD” employees and leaders in the comments section below.

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