Published March 11, 2002

How To Fire Bad Employees: Tips on Firing an Employee

"It isn't the people you fire who will make your life miserable, it's the people you don't fire." Harvey MacKay

Roger was fuming - and with good reason. Three times in the past four weeks, his shipping clerk had failed to show up to work. He always had an excuse, from his car not starting to the flu. Roger had enough business problems to deal with; he did not need an unreliable employee. The pep talks and warnings made little difference; it was now time to tell the "bum" to take a walk.

Terminating an employee is a distasteful task but sometimes necessary to the health of your business. Telling a worker to look for a new job because business is slow is not easy. If this is your first time handing out a pink slip, you may well have knots in your stomach expecting an unpleasant scene, or just from empathy.

It can be even more difficult if the dismissal is because the employee just can not perform the job satisfactorily. Even if employee fault is the reason, it is not a pleasant chore.

And if the employee is (was) a friend, you can count on hurt feelings and the possible end of the friendship. I knew of a situation where the owner found it necessary to fire his brother because he would not follow directions - they are still not speaking. Letting an employee go is not one of the joys of entrepreneurship. If you are an old hand at dismissing people, you may want to turn to the sports page. But if it is a new experience for you, read on.

Try to Salvage the Situation

Did you create the problem by hiring the wrong person? It would be easier for you if your employee could change so that everything would work out. Unfortunately, that is more wishful thinking than reality, leaving you with the choices of do nothing - not wise, encourage or reward change, or use fear.

Can you salvage the situation? Be sure your dissatisfaction with your employee is not your fault. Does the person understand what is expected? Do you treat all employees fairly? If you are on the mark with your management skills, maybe such motivational techniques such as recognizing and rewarding performance will help. Question your employee - attempt to uncover the reason(s) for a less than a stellar performance. If you get nowhere and merely add to your frustration, you know what you must do.

If you have threatened to fire a troublesome employee and after your warning, John Doe changes his behavior, don't count on it lasting. It may be an act. You may think your problem is solved. Surprise! A week later things are back to normal. Unless there is a strong inner drive, lasting change is difficult, near impossible. Fear, such as loss of a job, only brings a temporary change - as soon as the crisis is over, back to old habits.

Do It and Be Done With It

When you break the news, be on guard for the possibility of anger, even violence. If for any reason you are fearful of your employee's reaction, have someone with you. Don't postpone it, lie about the reasons, or dilly-dally around the situation hoping the worker will quit. This is the moment to show leadership and courage. Failing to take action may cost you the respect of your other employees. Don't let your feelings stand in your way. The longer you allow him or her to remain on the job, the more unfair you are to your employee and yourself. As much as you may dislike it, confrontation is part of business.

If you are required to give a two-week notice, do so, but issue a check for the two weeks, telling your ex-employee to collect any personal items and leave your business that day. Otherwise, a disgruntled employee hanging around for two weeks can poison the atmosphere of your business with bitterness. Deliver your message, politely, firmly and without emotion. And say goodbye.

Whatever the reason - the market, your finances, or your dissatisfaction - when the ax must fall, do it promptly with frankness and fairness. It is part of the price of owning your own business.

Article - Copyright 2002 Dr. Paul E. Adams. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.