They know they’re in the cross hairs! Employees who are not meeting standards and can’t seem to pull their job performance together often live in fear, knowing it’s probably only a matter of time before you call them into your office and start your conversation with the words: “I have some bad news.” Your dissatisfaction is obvious, yet, for whatever reason, they can’t seem to reverse their downward spiral, change their attitude or produce.
You may have tried assigning them to an unpopular shift, giving them menial tasks, demoting them -- questionable tactics at best -- all in the hopes of driving them away, yet these pesky workers still report to your company every day! There’s no choice. The only option you seem to have is termination.
But think again.
Firing an employee should be your very last resort, something you do only when you’ve exhausted every other avenue. The process of formally severing an employee from your company is apt to be emotionally draining as well as expensive. The price of a “Help Wanted” ad is small and probably the least of your concerns when you step back and consider the fallout that occurs when you terminate someone.
Unless you have an eager substitute who is fully trained and already waiting in the wings, you’ll find yourself short staffed. Be prepared to pay your remaining employees overtime, just to keep pace with ongoing demands, deadlines and problems. Keep in mind that the search for a new employee takes valuable time away from you. You’ll lose money by pouring over resumes, conducting interviews and sorting through the positives and negatives of each job candidate when you could be growing your business. Are you financially prepared to place your everyday needs at the company on hold while you’re recruiting?
If not, there are steps that can be taken to help improve a poor performer’s work habits and outlook before resorting to termination. One of your goals as a manager should be to reverse unacceptable behavior, ease tensions, enhance team morale, and help not only yourself, but also your employees. Progressive Discipline is a technique utilized by many managers when problems with their employees arise.
Consider following these procedures first, if you’re even considering firing a staff member:
1) Speak privately to your employee about your concerns regarding his or her performance. Ask questions that will spark conversations, prompt a frank discussion. Try to stay calm and offer resources, tools, or any aids that might get your subordinate on track. Listen carefully for clues about what motivates your employee – and what doesn’t! Pushing the right buttons, knowing how to elicit a positive response, will provide you with the results you want.
2) If positive changes do not occur, give an oral warning to the employee. That alone may be enough to turn around a poor attitude or lagging performance. Provide specific quantifiable data -- dates, times, and precise instances of shortcomings. Disclose your expectations, then underscore the consequences if improvements are not seen by an agreed upon, and realistic, date.
3) Document the details of each employee counseling session to protect yourself and minimize the risks of a wrongful discharge claim in case termination becomes the only viable option.
4) If your employee does not take strides to enhance his or her performance on the job, a written warning reiterating your expectations, objectives, and the price for unacceptable behavior is probably necessary. Place a copy of this document in the employee’s file.
5) A very short unpaid or paid suspension may be necessary if improvements are not soon evident. This “time out” can give you, as well as the employee, a chance to step back, view the bigger picture, consider past behavior, and contemplate future actions.
6) If more time passes and the situation is still unresolved, your only option may be termination. Make sure this move is appropriate and in line with past disciplinary measures. Cover all your bases and do everything you can to eliminate the possibility of your employee filing legal action against you or your company! Obtain written approval of your own superior and be absolutely certain you have an airtight case.
Be prepared to be seen as “the bad guy”, the one who broke up the team, especially if the dismissed employee was well liked by peers. You might also hear plenty of grumbling from remaining staff members who must work harder or longer until the lost employee is finally replaced. Consider planning a departmental lunch, ideally away from the office, to help reestablish broken ties and, perhaps, dissolve any ill will among the remaining staff members. Do what you can to make others see that the decision you made was to help insure long-term success at the company– not cause dissent.
Of course, the best way to avoid the emotional and financial strain of firing someone is to hire the right person the first time! There are many tools available to make your hiring decisions much easier. Remember that it’s probably impossible to know too much about the person you might be hiring. By feeling confident about your specific requirements, knowing your own management tactics, and then learning all you can about your job candidates, you’ll help to ensure that the person you think you’re hiring is also the same person who will come to work everyday.
The repercussions that come after terminating an employee are negative, far-reaching and apt to trigger anything from pangs of remorse to expensive, embarrassing lawsuits. Find employees who will enhance your team, not bring it down. Remember that the decisions you make today will determine your company's strength -- or weakness -- in the future.
You have power, authority and resources – use each of these wisely!