Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Making the decision to terminate an employee is difficult for most practice leaders. It’s even harder with a problem employee you think might be able to turn it around. Firing should be the last resort. But, when an employee who’s been given every chance to succeed is negatively impacting your team and the practice, enough is enough.
You know the employee we’re talking about; the one you think about every day driving to work. The one your friends and family are tired of listening you complain about. You know that firing is in the best interest of your practice. But the employee is basically likeable and some days gets the job done, more or less. You’re a nice person and you want your employee to succeed. You want to save your investment in this employee. You’ve been busy and just haven’t had the time to set the firing procedures in motion. On top of that, you’ll have to deal with finding and training a replacement….
Coaching is the best route to take with your employees whose performance isn’t quite up to par or who aren’t pulling their weight. But sometimes your efforts won’t be enough. When you’ve tried training, feedback, mentorship, and a formal performance improvement plan and the problems remain, the best approach may not be to spend more time trying to help a difficult employee turn around, but to let him or her go.
Firing someone is a tough decision, fraught with emotion and avoidance. It is never easy. Here are a few signs that help you know – despite your justifications to the contrary – when it’s the right move.
- Feedback is ignored.
When your efforts to deal with a problem employee are met by disinterest or disengagement, that’s a good sign that things probably won’t get better. If the employee doesn’t seem to care or make the effort to rectify mistakes or try to improve, it’s probably in your best interest to let the employee go.
- Expectations aren’t met.
The employee should know exactly what is expected to succeed on the job as well as what will happen if expectations aren’t met. Create a performance improvement plan with a time limit (generally 30, 60 or 90 days). Include necessary training, tools, coaching, etc. and give feedback throughout the process. Hold the employee accountable. If there’s no commitment to the plan, no improvement to a level of acceptable performance, it’s time to terminate.
- Bad behavior is toxic.
Is this employee constantly complaining and initiating trouble? Does he stir the pot by spreading malicious rumors, instigating damaging workplace gossip, or pitting colleagues against each other? If he undermines management, bad-mouths others, is spreading dissention, refuses to get on board with firm initiatives, frequently second guesses your decisions, picks arguments with you, fellow employees, customers or vendors, it’s time to part ways.
- “It’s just the way I am.”
Is the employee likeable enough, but passively resistant to the changes you are trying to initiate? Does she point out all the ways a new idea won’t work? When you discuss this with her, do you hear, “It’s just the way I am”? You need team members who can and will adjust and adapt to keep your firm competitive. If the employee cannot handle change it may be time to move on to somebody who can.
- Motivation is down.
Is this employee constantly missing deadlines? Does his work require multiple revisions or cause frequent project delays? Does he only do the bare minimum when everyone else is slammed? If this employee isn’t willing to step up their game, it’s time for them to step down.
6. Productivity is down.
Don’t just look at declining productivity of the employee in question. Has this person been requiring all your attention, taking you away from other employees or issues? Is she excessively going to other employees for help or venting? Do you find yourself frequently adjusting deadlines or reducing production expectations? If so, it may no longer be worth your time and effort to try and improve this person’s performance.
- Morale is down.
Your team sees the problem employee getting away with poor performance or behavior. Are they resentful they must shoulder more of the work than necessary? Is your problem employee’s attitude contagious and are others on your team complaining and becoming apathetic? Negativity can spread like wildfire. Don’t let one problem employee turn into multiple!
8. You’re getting customer and/or vendor complaints.
When customers or vendors are dissatisfied on a regular basis because of an employee’s work or behavior, you must seriously consider whether to keep this person on board. It’s unacceptable to have an employee who’s actively and continuously souring these critical relationships.
Use your coaching skills to give a problem employee every opportunity to learn, grow and meet your expectations. If that doesn’t work, carefully prepare for taking the next steps for letting him or her go. If you see these warning signs, remember it’s a business decision. Make the tough call, and do what’s best for your team and your practice in the long run.