Dealing with ineffective employees when firing is not an option

It can be hard to fire an employee, however one that does not fit costs money, clients and creates resentment among other staff.

What do you do if a employee isn't working out?

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2015 — Many times, companies do not fire an ineffective employee because firing an employee is hard; it’s that simple.

Imagine sitting a person in your office and telling him he is done. I did that last year, and the ineffective employee was literally shocked. He was nearly in tears; he felt as if I were ruining his life.

Reader, your first question may be, why I had not told him he was ineffective sooner? I did. He was told by me and by his direct supervisor again and again that he was not performing at a competent level.

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He was given direct, behavioral examples:

  • “You missed the plane to the client’s site and, as a result, the cost to the company was 500 additional dollars and all the employees assigned to travel to that client’s site were unable to begin work at that site until you arrived. We lost time and money.”
  • “You forgot to hand out the instruction packet to the group of candidates taking a test. They complained and it damaged the company’s reputation.”
  • “You are late to each client meeting, which damages the company’s reputation.”

He was told to correct his errors immediately. He was instructed to arrive 15 minutes early to each scheduled meeting. He was told that he must follow instructions and make a reminder sheet so he would not forget any critical steps. He was told he must repay the company for his missed flight.

This employee remained with the company for a total of six months. It was clear he was not going to be a fit. While he was employed, the other employees became very resentful. They had to redo his work. They had to keep an eye on him and monitor his behavior around clients.

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They wondered if it was their job to be an ineffective employee’s keeper. They surely thought not. And they blamed the boss for not taking immediate action — firing him.

As this employee remained with the company, the morale of all employees fell. They had a problem employee they had to work with and correct, he embarrassed them, and in their minds they had an ineffective boss who was not handling the problem.

What is the correct solution? All employees deserve at least one opportunity to correct ineffective behavior. There must be a company policy that explains how the corrective action occurs. For example, upon learning that an employee is performing ineffectively, his direct supervisor will give him a performance improvement plan that must be met within 30 days. If the employee does not meet the performance improvement requirements, he will be demoted, terminated or otherwise sanctioned.

When this type of policy exists, then all employees know what kind of action will be taken against an ineffective employee. They do not know, however, if or when the policy will be implemented. This aspect requires communication. First, brief all new employees on the performance improvement policy to ensure they are aware of it. Next, tell your employees or coworkers when they are complaining or resentful of the ineffective employee that all personnel policies are being utilized to address the problem. This statement protects the privacy of the ineffective employee better than stating that a performance improvement plan has been implemented against him.

If the performance improvement plan achieves its desired outcome — improved performance — then you protect the employee from embarrassment. You want to hold out the opportunity to meet expectations in an honorable way.

While that employee is trying to meet expectations, instruct other employees to avoid speaking ill of him. They will all know that, if he does not meet expectations, proper action will be taken. There is no need for gossip.

This week’s prescription: Do not talk about any employees behind their backs — even ineffective ones

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