Ready, Aim, FirePersonality clashes, lackluster performance, insubordination, aggressive behavior – good reasons to fire an employee? Maybe…or maybe not!

If you spend most of your morning commutes dreaming up new ways to deal with a nightmare employee, then it’s time to stop dreaming and start taking action. Eliminating employee misconduct is a huge challenge for anyone who has ever uttered those immortal words “You’re Hired,” and then quickly regretted it.

Innocent looking offices become strategic battlegrounds when an employee’s behavior goes unchecked. Working conditions can be manipulated to drive the troublesome employee to leave “voluntarily.” Employees might be moved to a different geographical area, given an unpopular shift, assigned menial tasks, or otherwise demoted. Sometimes, internal alliances are formed and existing employees conspire against the unsatisfactory employee in a desperate, but malicious, attempt to banish him or her.

However, these actions typically bring about more harm than good and may, in fact, be illegal.

If a seemingly unfit employee is unproductive, making mistakes, or otherwise causing severe anxiety, there are legitimate ways to take action. Firing the employee should be your last resort, as doing so will likely drain you emotionally and financially. The price of a job posting is one of many expenses. You may find yourself short-staffed and struggling to keep up with demands and deadlines. The replacement of an employee requires you to pore over resumes, conduct interviews and sort through the positives and negatives of each candidate. Hours that should be spent planning, developing business strategies and attending to the needs of everyday business, are lost.

Progressive discipline can improve a poor performer’s work habits and outlook. Your goal as a manager should be to turn around inappropriate behavior, ease tensions, and help not only yourself, but also your employee.

Consider these procedures before firing a staff member:

1. Schedule a private meeting to discuss your concerns. Offer resources, tools, or any aids that might get your employee on track. Ask open-ended questions that prompt a discussion. Listen intently for clues about what motivates your employee – and what doesn’t! If you know how to elicit a positive response from someone, you can learn how to push the right buttons to get it.

2. Issue a verbal warning. In many cases, this can resolve the problem. Although it might be difficult, refrain from making subjective, generalized statements like, “you have a bad attitude.”  Provide quantifiable data, dates, times and specific instances of shortcomings. Disclose your expectations, and underscore the consequences if improvements are not seen by a specific and realistic date.

3. Document the details of each counseling session to protect yourself and minimize the risks of a wrongful discharge claim if termination becomes necessary.
If job performance continues to be problematic, issue a written warning reiterating expectations, objectives, and the consequences for unacceptable behavior. Place a copy in the employee’s file.

4. A short unpaid or paid suspension may need to follow if improvements are not evident and the employee works in administration and/or draws a straight salary. This “time out” gives you a chance to step back, view the big picture, consider past actions, and contemplate future behavior.

5. If the situation is still unresolved, your only option may be termination. Be sure it is appropriate and in line with past disciplinary measures. Eliminate any possibility of your employee filing legal action against you. Obtain written approval from your own manager and make sure you have an airtight case.

Be prepared to deal with some fallout, which may include resentment from the terminated employee’s peer allies or accusations that you broke up a great team. You might also hear plenty of grumbling from remaining staff members who must work harder or longer until the employee is replaced. You will undoubtedly need very thick skin, at least until the dust settles.

Of course, you can avoid the stress and expense of employee terminations simply by making better hiring decisions. The mistake of taking on new employees without a firm grasp of their goals, strategies, work habits and overall personality can be costly. Conversely, make sure your applicants understand your needs and expectations. Guessing is a game that should not be played by either prospective employers or prospective employees.

Give new hires a copy of your handbook. If you do not have one, provide some written rules so your new hire understands what is and is not acceptable. Be direct, clear and specific. Supply a written job description making your requirements definitive. Leave no room for missed goals, bent rules, skipped steps, or less than stellar behavior.

Business professionals are always fine tuning their hiring practices. Interviews, resumes and personal recommendations are helpful, but problems like incompatibility with a workplace or conflicting business strategies may initially go unnoticed, then lead to intolerable frustration and stress on the job.

Many managers turn to behavioral assessments to help determine job and workplace compatibility. These reports can red flag a candidate’s possible incompatibility with a job, a manager, and a specific workplace while pointing out ways to maximize that person’s potential. Managers also have the opportunity to learn more about their own work habits and use that to adjust to the needs of their team.

The aftershocks that come from terminating an employee are far reaching and can trigger anything from pangs of remorse to expensive lawsuits. Protect yourself and your organization by doing all you can to find employees who will enhance your team, not bring it down. Sometimes the best solution to a big problem is to avoid having it in the first place!

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Carolyn Eagen

An experienced executive and management consultant with a strong background in coaching, team development, retention, and sales management.

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