How to Eliminate Squatters in Your Workforce

Far too many companies have far too many employees who are doing very little to contribute to the company’s bottom line. There are squatters in the ranks. Squatters are employees who continue to draw a paycheck even though they stopped working long ago. Here’s how to get squatters working again.


Several years ago I was working with a group of senior level managers at a large utility company in California. Their assignment was to reorganize a major business unit in order to cut costs and streamline the work at the company.

Near the end of the organizational realignment, as the new organizational chart was being reviewed, one of the participating managers made an amazing comment. Shaking his head he lamented, “I still have 40 employees in my department. But we could get the job done just as well if I only had three good ones.”

Although perhaps exaggerated, his statement was probably more true than false. Far too many companies have far too many employees who are doing very little to contribute to the company’s bottom line. There are squatters in the ranks. Squatters are employees who continue to draw a paycheck even though they stopped working long ago.

I’m constantly amazed at managers who cry for more staff to get the work done when, in fact, reducing the number of their staff might have a more positive affect upon the productivity of their work area. A company with squatters doesn’t need more staff; it needs fewer squatters.

 What Causes Squatters?

If you accept the premise that most people want to do a good job and want to work to their fullest potential (as surveys suggest), then you have to wonder what caused the workers to squat in the first place. I doubt they were squatters when they first started the job. If they had been squatters from the beginning they wouldn’t have made it past their probationary period. So the real question is: What causes employees who at one time were productive to become squatters?

I define squatters as employees who are hesitant to take independent action. They wait for instruction before stepping forward. Not clear on whether or not they can or should make a decision, they don’t. Unaware of where the boundaries lie, they stay as far away as possible from perceived pitfalls, not wanting to get into trouble. Fearful of adverse consequences, they retreat to the center of the “field” and they squat.

 How to Eliminate Squatters

Managers can reduce the number of squatters in their ranks by defining the Field of Play for their employees. The Field of Play*, shown below, outlines the boundaries within which the employees must perform their tasks.


Employees need to know the boundaries surrounding their performance in order to operate to their fullest potential. Knowing where the boundaries are allows the employees to move toward the goal without fear of reprisal if they inadvertently step out of bounds. Employees who are within the defined boundaries should be granted full latitude to drive toward the goal.

The top boundary of the Field of Play is the Goal Line. The goal line constitutes the measurements by which the employees know whether or not they are winning in their jobs. This may include such things as achieving the company vision, strategies and objectives. It could be achieving key financial results or production levels. The goal line might also be customer satisfaction indices or service levels you wish to reach.

Managers must be very clear regarding the performance objectives for their employees. These goals should be specific, measurable statements of the desired outcome. Clear communication ensures clear understanding and specific expectations get specific results.

Once the goal line has been established, employees need a clear definition of the Performance Out of Bounds. The Performance Out of Bounds represents the minimum performance standards that must be maintained by the employees. It also includes the policies, procedures, processes and practices that must be followed in order to reach the goal line.

Employees who step out of bounds on this line are those who are performing below standard or those who are not following the policies and procedures as defined. Corrective action should be taken to help out of bounds employees get back on the field.

The boundary line on the right side of the field is called Managerial Out of Bounds. This boundary defines the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, attitudes and actions. This boundary is where the manager clearly articulates his or her expectations. For example, it is not safe to assume that just because an employee works in the hospitality industry he or she knows they must be hospitable. Likewise, employees may have a different definition of “on time” than a manager’s perspective. Managerial Out of Bounds is where the manager clearly defines and articulates what the manager expects of the employee in addition to the performance expectations.

Managerial Out of Bounds might include unique traits the manager desires in his or her particular employees; such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, a sense of urgency, attention to detail, etc. It also includes those behaviors, attitudes and actions that would please the manager and those actions that would irritate him or her. This boundary line communicates the qualities that will allow the employee to be successful working for this specific manager. It shows how to please one’s manager and raise one’s value as an employee.

Finally, the left boundary line is called Terminal Out of Bounds. As the name implies, this boundary represents those infractions for which the employees would immediately be fired.

Terminal Out of Bounds is a clear black and white boundary where there is no gray area. Employees who step on this line are terminated, regardless of their position or status in the organization. If your star performer or highest producer steps over this boundary, they must be fired. Terminal is terminal.

Terminal offenses are only those infractions where there is no question that the employee should be fired. If the penalty for the infraction is situational, then the offense cannot be listed on the Terminal Out of Bounds side of the field. This is the case for some of the violations that are typically listed as “terminal” in a company’s employee handbook – such as “insubordination” or “no call no show.” 

If the manager must inquire first as to why the offense occurred before deciding what action to take, then the offending item should not be categorized as terminal. When an employee steps on the Terminal Out of Bounds line they should be fired immediately, regardless of the reason for their transgression. Offenses where it is questionable whether or not the individual should be dismissed based upon the degree or severity of the discrepancy should be listed on the Managerial Out of Bounds or Performance Out of Bounds sides of the field.

Field of Play Motivates Workers to Work

When all four boundaries are in place, the Field of Play is set. The employees can now perform their tasks with confidence. Clear, consistent, firmly established boundaries are the key to eliminating squatters from your workforce. Knowing the boundaries gives employees confidence to play the entire field and keeps them from squatting in the middle.

Most squatters come alive when they know what “game” they are playing, when they know where the goal line is, and when they know how to stay in bounds.

The simple act of pro­viding workers with clear infor­mation about the goals and boundaries of their job has more poten­tial for eliminating squatters in your workforce than any other strat­egy. §


Innovative Management Group’s Accountability Management Workshop teaches executives, managers and supervisors how to establish the Field of Play for every employee and then hold their employees accountable for performing to standard on the Field. Please contact us at 702-592-6431 for complete information about this highly effective management training workshop.


* The Field of Play is adapted from Charles Coonradt’s book, The Game of Work.

09:51 am am  01-08-13
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