As a manager, it’s your job to deal with tough employees. There are times you’ll have to coach staffers whose performance isn’t quite up to par, confront team members who aren't pulling their weight, and even write up HR-backed performance improvement plans about workplace issues.
But there are also times when your efforts won’t be enough—and when the best approach isn’t to spend more time trying to help a difficult employee turn around, it’s to let him or her go.
I've had to go through the process of firing an employee myself. And while it was an incredibly tough decision to come to, I identified a few factors that will help me know when it’s the right move in the future. If you’re in the same boat, consider these signs that it might be time to part ways with your problem employee.
1. Bad Behavior is Getting Worse
When you confront employees about a performance issue, most of them will react by fixing the issue and trying hard to get better. On the other hand, if you find that your efforts to deal with a problem employee are met by disinterest, disengagement, or even worse behavior, that’s a good sign that things won’t necessarily get better.
In my case, my staffer started increasingly arriving late without notice, heading out early, and taking long lunches. I could tell my employee didn’t have a sense of pride about the job or the organization at all and didn’t care at all about getting better. And that’s certainly not the type of employee you want to have on your team.
2. Productivity is Down
If you’re considering firing someone, chances are his or her own productivity is down. But also consider if there’s been a decline in productivity for you or among your staff. Has this person been requiring all of your attention, taking you away from other employees or issues? Is he or she excessively asking other team members for help, brainstorming, or venting? Does his or her work require multiple revisions or cause project delays? If so, at some point, it may no longer be worth your team's time and effort to try and improve this person’s performance.
3. Morale is Down
Again, don’t just look for this problem when it comes to the employee in question, but within your team or the organization as a whole. In my own experience, I saw employees who were once engaged and happy start feeling deflated and unmotivated, and I heard increasing complaints not only about the problem employee, but about the workload as a whole.
If your team members aren’t able to focus on or complete their own projects because of a problem employee, or they feel they are shouldering more of the project burden than necessary, negativity will spread like wildfire. And believe me: Having one problem employee turn into multiple is not something you can afford.
Sure, a fresh perspective and some constructive criticism can be a great asset on a team. But an employee who incites mutiny—tearing down previous work, undermining a management plan, or bad-mouthing a supervisor to others—has no place on a healthy team. I’ve personally seen several examples of mutiny, ranging from refusing to write customer names on a cup as a barista at Starbucks to making rogue updates to the company website. When an employee just won't get on board with company initiatives and project requirements, it might be time to consider parting ways.
5. You’re Getting Customer and Vendor Complaints
We all answer to someone, and often, that’s our customers. So, when they’re dissatisfied on a regular basis as a result of an employee’s work or behavior, you must seriously consider whether to keep this person on board. Same goes for vendors—they’re often critical in the success of your business functions, so it’s unacceptable to have an employee who's actively souring those relationships. If you start hearing complaints from either of these groups, take them seriously.
It’s never pleasant to consider terminating an employee. But if you’ve tried to help him or her improve through training, feedback, mentorship, and a formal performance improvement plan and the problems remain, it’s probably best to terminate the relationship. Often, it’s in the best interest of the team, the organization, and even the employee to part ways before permanent damage is done. If you see these warning signs, make the tough call, and do what’s best for your team in the long run.