(Warning, this article is controversial, don’t read it and decide to go on a “firing spree.” Termination decisions can be a legal landmine, this article is not legal advice. Like all HR sites, we recommend you seek good legal counsel before making critical employment decisions.)
The employee came to me as a last resort. She had just given her notice and I sensed she wanted me to talk her out of it. Confiding she said, “I realized “Tom” (her boss) doesn’t want me here. I know no matter what I say or do, nothing is going to change his opinion about me.” I pondered how correct she was; somewhere in her years of employment things had gone downhill. Her resentment had gotten the best of her to the point others around her had begun to “walk on eggshells.” Ironically even her promotion had not helped although “lack of upward mobility” was one of her concerns. It seemed when one problem was resolved, she found a new one to focus on. Despite pep talks and efforts to coach her, she and her manager had reached an impasse. Her manager did not like how her morale was bringing others down and she correctly sensed he no longer wanted her around. He had reached what I call in employment as “the point of no return”.
The Point of No Return
The “point of no return” is when an employer has completely given up on an employee. Most employees’ sense when they are no longer wanted. They drag themselves to work but the tension is palpable. They may even make some efforts to improve, but it feels like a lost cause (see reasons below). Still, they rarely take the initiative to quit. I’ve seen employment relationships like this drag on for a long time.
Some clients are surprised when I share my philosophy about these scenarios. “It’s cruel to keep an employee whom you no longer want to invest in.” Why? Nobody wants to work where they are not wanted.
First steps: Before my clients reach “the point of no return”, we map out a plan to help the employee improve. The employer makes every effort to assist their “trouble employee” and coaching begins. Often improvement takes place and everybody wins. This is the best-case scenario and it happens quite often. Still, it is not guaranteed.
An Employer Has Limits
One of my client’s (a CEO) often tells his team, “If you are not successful in your job, it means I’ve failed.” I commend his ownership for his role and agree with that motto–to a point. Unfortunately, employers have limits and employees must take ownership for their actions. I’ve seen employers invest time and resources into a “problem employee” resulting in no change or worse. Why does this happen? The reasons are many:
Why Some Employees Don’t Make It
Poor Fit: The employees’ work style does not fit with the organization. Employers often label these as “bad hires” but it is up to the organization to assess “fit” in the hiring process. For example, an employer should think twice before hiring someone who expresses the need for “flex time” when the company requires a strict start time. When this person shows up an hour or so after start time (time and time again even after counseling), the employer must accept it is not a good fit. Or consider something as seemingly innocent as work attire. Let’s say your organization requires business attire and the employee (despite coaching) continues to come to work each day dressed more like someone going to Coachella, it is not a good fit.
Lack of Ability or Skills: Sometimes the person simply does not have the ability to do the job even after thorough training. For example, some people are great at single tasks jobs but simply can’t multi-task. This does not make them a bad person, just a bad match for a demanding multi-task job. Then there are skills. Employers must hire someone with a certain skill set; then they can train for improvement or increased skills. If, for example, the job requires the person create pivot tables in Excel and your new hire has zero computer experience, clearly they lack the skills.
Personal Problems: One of the most common, yet overlooked issues is when an employee’s personal life is upset and it starts affecting their job. I’ve yet to meet a heartless employer who has not made every effort to provide some leeway during difficult times. Still, even the most generous of employers find there is a limit. I often suggest employers provide more grace for long term dedicated employees. The “jury is still out” for new hires who suddenly have drama. Shocking as it may seem (wink), people do not always tell the truth. This area is fraught with landmines (legal, ethical, emotional) yet continues to be one of the biggest contributors to performance issues. There is no easy answer, but keep in mind letting a problem fester too long will create negatively all around. Peers start getting frustrated, managers feel torn and even the “problem employee” can feel bad about not meeting expectations. (See the end of “Firing with Dignity Part 2” for a real-life example.).
In Part 2 of Firing with Dignity we will explore the actual steps and examples on how to conduct the meeting.