One of the most difficult things for most managers to do is to end an individual’s employment. Terminating an employee should be difficult because of what it means for the person, the human being, who is walking out the door. Loss of a paycheck and benefits, loss of friendships in the workplace, and the challenge of “starting over” are all very serious issues. And terminations are, by definition, a conflict oriented event. Firing an employee should not be easy and we shouldn’t do it without good due diligence. However, it is much worse over the long run to “carry” an employee who does not contribute, or worse, who makes it difficult for other employees to contribute positively to organizational outcomes.
Obviously, if someone breaks the law or steals from the company or behaves in threatening ways, etc., termination is not a complicated decision and usually isn’t very difficult. On the other hand, many situations are much less clear. Firing someone for simply failing to perform, for example, is much more complicated than firing someone who committed a crime in the workplace—but in the end, it may be just as important.
When employees perform poorly or create conflict in the workplace or exhibit behaviors that are unprofessional and we do nothing, the results are often worse than if we had acted decisively. Over time, this can cause poor morale and cynicism even among high performing employees, who see that “the problem” is not being addressed and that it “doesn’t matter” if someone is a poor employee—they keep getting a paycheck while everyone else works harder, smarter, more collaboratively etc.
As managers, we should work very hard to help our employees be successful. We should provide resources and coaching; we should remove obstacles; we should provide an environment that is amenable to productivity and success. But when we do those things and our employees still do not produce, or worse, cause problems for others, then it is time to cut our losses. And, if done well and in a timely fashion, you are doing the employee a favor. It is a leadership obligation to make personnel decisions that are favorable to the organization, but also favorable to employees, and sometimes, helping a person move out can be the best outcome for the employee as well.