Article Archive
Problem Students lead to Problem Employees
Attitude Problems and the Evaluation Process

Anyone who has been in the workforce for any amount of time knows all about problem employees. Managers, supervisors and instructors are probably all too familiar with the conflicts that arise because of individuals' troubling behavior. While those in leadership positions like to believe that problem employees are few and far between, often it seems as if this is just not the case. Experience shows that there is often a direct correlation between the employee's attitude toward his job or company and his attitude toward patients and patient care. Some EMT's and paramedics are less desirable to work with or work on others due to their attitudes.

In the educational arena, these behaviors float to the surface early. Some students exhibit the same personality traits in the educational setting that later manifest in "problem employees" in the field. The student behaviors have not reached the level of the problem employees, but the character traits definitely exist. "Red flags" in the classroom may translate to employees with poor attitudes in the field.

Do instructors pass students with mediocre, or worse than mediocre, attitudes who could potentially become employees with poor or dangerous attitudes? Students, and often employees, are evaluated in three educational "domains:"

  • Cognitive Domain, the didactic or lecture portion of the instruction
  • Psychomotor Domain, the lab or hands-on arena
  • Affective Domain, this involves assessing the student's attitudes, feelings and beliefs

Instructors preach for hours in the lecture hall, passing along knowledge, so that students understand the fundamentals of the work and career they pursue. In the lab, instructors teach and drill the skills that students will be required to perform and execute with habitual precision. Yet, instructors often fail to pass along the good behavior, the positive attitudes and the compassionate beliefs that are absolutely necessary when performing patient care. Employers often neglect the 'problem children' with attitude problems because their skills are sufficient.

The standard for skill performance is students or employees meet "minimum competencies." This is tantamount to putting something out for the "lowest bid," but it is the standard to which instructors hold the student and management holds the employee. Now this is not solely the fault of the educator or the employer per se (after all, it is the national standard that they are held to), but they are partially responsible for the problem and "attitude-challenged" individuals that exist within the business. So where do some of the challenges manifest that face educators and employers?

Education is expensive, and no small amount of money is invested in employees. When the student gets to the end of a three-month training program, he may be passed just because he made it this far, especially if he is borderline and still meets minimum competencies in key areas. Employers invest many thousands of dollars in training and re-training, salaries and benefits, and other costs required to maintain a competent workforce. Losing an employee often means going back to the beginning to train a replacement and losing all the dollars invested in the previous individual.

Some leaders attempt to pass the buck. This seems to be a fundamental philosophy for many instructors, but it is hardly intentional. Instructors know that they will have the student for a limited amount of time, and then he will be "out of their hair." If the student is a thorn in their side, educators may pass the student when he or she meets minimum competencies but not all of the standards. Students who travel for an internship or a class may be passed because they are going somewhere else when their time is done. That leaves someone else with the problem.

A favorite excuse often used by instructors is the student will wash out somewhere else in the process, either in the next class or when the student works in the field. Maybe the student will wash out when he takes the national or regional certification test. The common theme throughout these excuses is that the student will no longer be "my problem."

Management is also guilty of the aforementioned behavior followed by instructors. They will transfer a problem individual or worse, promote them - anything to get rid of them instead of dealing with the problem. No one wants to dismiss these individuals as there has been way too much time and money invested to just cast them aside, even with the most egregious of behaviors! Management thinks, "Oh, and think of the lawsuits. Well, we just need to find a place for them."

Assessment of students is familiar in the areas of the cognitive and psychomotor domains; they pass the required tests and perform the required skills, or they do not. Either way, instructors have clear and objective criteria to assess students' competencies. Employers have the same constraints. The employee, during the evaluation process, either did or did not meet management's expectations. Management counseled the employee about the deficiencies in his performance, wrote volumes of paper about the inadequacies to create the proverbial "paper trail," and the employee moved to correct these deficiencies or face the door.

Cut and dry, right? Sometimes but is it always the case? What about the student or employee who achieves the goals set by the instructor or management but has such a bad attitude that he is unsuitable for the work environment? How does management or an instructor evaluate, in the most objective way, the affective domain that is often a bigger problem than simple performance?

Another possible reason instructors pass problem students is that instructors might not want to fail a student who has made it to the end of the training program. Instructors feel guilty about failing someone who meets all of the minimum cognitive and psychomotor competencies. While staring at the grade book, instructors may feel that the student maybe was not all that bad.

Employers and supervisors face the same dilemma. The employee meets all of management's objectives regarding performance and standards, yet the attitude projected by the employee is either less than desirable or unacceptable to the company.

Probably the most concerning reason, and the most difficult to digest, is that instructors and employers alike do not have, or have difficulty creating, assessment criteria that will stand up to the rigors of professional scrutiny. Keeping affective assessment criteria objectives can be very difficult. Are the criteria "bulletproof" enough to fail a student (or suspend, discipline or "turf" an employee) out of a training program who has a grade of a "B" but says the "F" word in class during a required formal presentation? Will the grade appeal support the student because of the "B" average or support the instructor because of the profane and unacceptable behavior in a classroom and in a profession?

Do employers or instructors have an obligation to attempt to correct issues with student or employee behavior? The concern is that the individual may not have a full understanding that his behavior is unacceptable because of his background. Maybe instructors should teach them how to respond appropriately to particular situations or stimuli that cause unacceptable behavior.

To help an individual develop a more appropriate response or behavior, follow a six-step process: identification, notification, understanding, education, re-evaluation and outcome decision. This general process can be shortened or expanded based on the situation, but it is important that the educator or supervisor and the individual both have a clear understanding of the situation and the steps utilized to correct concerns.

Step one is identification of the behavior. Any experienced evaluator may recognize inappropriate behavior, but he needs to have some specific criteria written in a policy and procedure manual to which he can refer to initiate a behavior adjustment program. Without this validation and approval of management, the problem individual, may have the inclination to write this off as a personal vendetta against him or her.

Once an instructor or supervisor identifies that an individual exhibits particular behaviors outlined in a procedure manual, the evaluator must proceed to step two - notify the individual. The instructor or supervisor should meet the individual in an appropriate place to explain what behavior was observed and clarify why this behavior is a concern. This is also a good time for the evaluator to have the individual fill out a self-assessment of his behavior. Philosophies may differ if the individual completes the self-assessment before or after the discussion based on the evaluator's observations, but a self examination by the individual should be performed.

Right on the heels of step two, notification, needs to be step three - understanding by the offending individual. For the student or employee to progress successfully through the remaining steps, he needs to understand why the notification and the self-assessment were performed and the result of continuing inappropriate behavior.

Once the individual has a clear understanding of the evaluator's concerns and the reason for notification, now step four can begin. This may be the most difficult step because the individual must learn how to identify the stimuli or situations that cause the untoward behavior. A process must be implemented to train the proper response by the individual. For example, if a person becomes angry and vulgar when interrupted, then he needs to learn how to politely respond by notifying the interrupter to stop interrupting.

Steps three and four are by far the most difficult hurdles. People may not believe that they are doing anything wrong or they make excuses. The instructor or manager needs to help the individual recognize professionally-appropriate behavior.

Now that the individual understands how to appropriately respond to the situation, step five is the re-evaluation or re-issuance of the original notification. This determines if there has been improvement or deterioration in the behavior. Re-evaluation can be done repetitively throughout the process. In this step, the instructor or supervisor must act as an advisor or mentor to help the individual with the improvement process, not just evaluate him or her. This would also be the appropriate time for more self-assessments and other official paperwork to document improvement or deterioration. A "paper trail" is essential to backup all assertions that the individual was aware and failed to correct unacceptable performance or behavior.

The final step is making a decision about the student or employee's outcome. This should be the written, final evaluation of the process by the instructor. The instructor can document recommendations about the advancement of the student. The employer can document recommendations for discipline, suspension or termination. Accurate, objective, well-articulated proper documentation on the part of the supervisory personnel is paramount during each step of this process.

Simple criteria must be utilized when trying to objectively and fairly evaluate unacceptable behavior including attitudes, feeling and beliefs. The evaluation must be well documented and clearly promulgated to the individuals. This is an essential component of any evaluation criteria, behavioral or otherwise. If the student or employee is unaware of acceptable standards and expectations, it is more difficult to hammer them later and even more difficult to defend it. When writing objective criteria for behavior performance, keep it simple. Use words, phrases and language that all can understand.

Individuals who exhibit inappropriate behavior in the classroom or workplace must have this deficiency corrected early in his or her education or career. Develop a set of objective criteria for behavioral evaluation, run it through the legal department and then give it to employees or students. Notifying the employees and students in advance helps to effectively implement the process and back it up with severe consequences such as failure or termination. Students and employees must also be informed that expected performance will be evaluated, and compliance is tied to their employment, promotion or success in the professional setting.

American Medical Response (AMR), a local Las Vegas pre-hospital provider, developed affective assessment criteria. View the PDF document to use as an example.


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