How to Protect Yourself When You Inherit an Incompetent Staff

Find creative ways to motivate your staff, and don't let their performance reflect on you.

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Andrew G. Rosen
Staff members are often inherited. So what do you do when you’re a manager and your staff is comprised of unmotivated lifers who lack educational experience and basic skills? Relieving them of their duties is not an option. You must find creative ways to motivate them, and at the same time, protect yourself so their performance is not a reflection on you.

Here are several tips for dealing with “dead weight” in a politically correct world:

Log Everything

No one prides themselves on being a micromanager, but when it comes to working with dead weight—staffers who are an oppressive burden—it’s important to protect yourself at all times. Keep a running log of all staff interactions. From meeting minutes to attendance calendars, log every detail so that you have a job journal you can present to your boss to make a case for changes.

Good managers are often brought down by bad staff. Don’t let it happen to you.

[See 15 Ways Good Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

Communicate Regularly

It’s so easy to “ice out” people we don’t care for at the office. If you find yourself avoiding subordinates, it’s imperative to correct the situation as quickly as possible. You should also be letting management know on a regular basis about the staffs’ shortcomings. The person above you will likely try to put it on you, but if it's a problem that existed previously, you must cover yourself and be on the record with any issues.

Do what you can to work with the employee(s), but be sure to communicate to your boss how long you have spent with them to rectify a problem. You need to prove that you've done everything possible on your end and exhausted all means.

[See Why a Quiet Office is Bad News.]

Shuffle Responsibilities

If you have the power, switch up staffers’ responsibilities. As a new manager, it’s your responsibility to identify your staff’s skills and weaknesses. You might be pleasantly surprised at what a mini-shakeup can uncover. Finding the right incentives for employees can take time, but everyone is motivated by something.

Job Vent

If you’re frustrated by being surrounded by dead weight and annoyed that you have to carry out every task yourself, you may need a healthy way to vent. From exercise to keeping a job journal, there are many ways to leave the stress of a bad work day far behind. The worst thing you can do is openly vent about your staffers to other people within the company. Not only can it be embarrassing for them, but it makes you look like an untrustworthy manager.

[See What to Do When You Hate Your Job.]

Help Them Get Out

It’s an odd thought, but perhaps you want to try to help your employee find a new job. With the majority of job boards allowing you to send postings anonymously, it’s not a horrible idea to push them towards the door. Look at it as a win-win.

Insulate Yourself

Managers are usually busy doing their old job, their new job, and all of the administrative paperwork in between. A lousy staff can be the ultimate time leech. Structure your department so you are insulated from the most time-consuming tasks. Have the bottom feeders work directly with someone else in the department and have that person report to you.

Sometimes fighting an incompetent staff is like running straight into a brick wall. But it’s our job to cope with the cards we've been dealt. A good manager will find a way—or find a new job.

Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job and an established freelance blogger who is available for hire. Follow him on Twitter (@jobacle) or connect on LinkedIn.