When to let employees go

Do you have an employee who is constantly making mistakes? An employee who is consistently late or breaking other company policies? An employee who has an awful attitude that alienates other employees or worse yet, clients? We all have them and when it gets down to it we know we should let them go, but we don’t. But why don’t we?

Over the last few years I have found myself in a situation with these types of problem employees numerous times. I have invested hours upon hours talking about these trouble employees to my colleagues and my other managers.  I have spent energy and time coaching these employees and writing PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans). At the end I do make the choice to let them go, but not before a lot of wasted time, energy, and money.  My biggest hangup on making the decision to cut an employee is the emotional side of the decision. Even when I know that its the right choice, I talk myself in circles convincing myself I can help them, they can change, or that maybe I am overreacting and its my fault they are not succeeding. Here are some of my top situations and how I handled them…. and how I SHOULD have handled them.

The employee who makes too many mistakes:
This employee caught onto every task thrown at her and was a very productive at everything she did. However, she made a lot of small mistakes because she got too confident and was always rushing through tasks. The small mistakes started snowballing into big mistakes, which eventually cost us tens of thousands of dollars in fees, other employees wasted labor to fix mistakes, and lost long term clients. This employee was very dedicated to the company, she would always work extra, she cared for her co workers, she respected her bosses, which made the decision to let her go even harder.  She was written up, she was suspended, she received coaching and multiple PIPs, however things would only improve temporarily. This cycle went on for one year of her two years of employment with us before I finally had to let her go.  I waited well past time to let her go because of the emotional tie to her and because she truly was a loyal employee, the job just wasn’t the right fit. What I should have done was let her go after three issues that were worth documenting. By always letting her off the hook she felt she was invincible and never took the issues seriously enough to correct them.

The employee who isn’t reaching goals:
This employee was very smart and very thorough, however I run a production facility where we pride ourselves not only on quality but speed.  She would get behind every day, which lead to employees in other departments with nothing to do early in the day and slammed at the end. This lead to frustrated, stressed employees who I would end up paying overtime because this employee delayed their day.  I spoke to her four times about the issue of her being behind constantly, as well as other issues in attendance and attitude.  I offered re-training, coaching, tools, but she always said she was fine or had someone else to blame. I offered her other positions but she wanted to stay doing the job she had. I found myself taking things off her plate when the point of the position was for her to take things off mine.  What made the issue worse is that she was constantly stressed and very vocal about it.  Employees would ask her questions and she would sigh and make them feel that they were inconveniencing her. It got so bad that most of my employees were not comfortable asking her questions.  When I finally let her go she was very surprised and felt that I had not given her a final warning.  While I had talked to her numerous times about her attitude, her stress level, her productivity, and her constant tardiness, I had not documented any of the issues. I felt that our conversations were enough but in hind sight I should have documented every time I discussed a concern.

The employee(s) who breaks rules:
We have an employee handbook that clearly states all of our policies and rules. Many of my production employees like to push the limits or try to be sneaky about things such as our no cell phone policy.  We have turned a blind eye to numerous cell phone related issues when we are busy and can’t afford losing someone, but we have also fired people on the spot when we catch them on their phones. The issue is that this is not a consistent policy if it applies to one employee/situation and not all.  It makes employees think they can do what they want because they know they are needed. We need to have a firm hard policy for dealing with issues that applies to everyone, at all times of the year.

What I have learned from these issues is that a company must have a plan for employee discipline.  You need to write down the rules and the consequences for each. You need to have a policy of how many strikes an employee gets so you don’t waiver when the going gets tough or you get too emotional connected to your employees.  Most importantly you have to be on the same page as your co-managers so one of you doesn’t talk the other out of a firing when the rules have been broken.  HR is hard, we want to have a connection with our employees but we also have to have a strict policy for when your employees start dragging down your business.


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