One Bad Apple

One bad apple can spoil the bunch

Business ownership is hard, especially when an employee isn’t working out.

 Every business leaders wants a great team.  Too bad it’s so hard to achieve.

Sometimes, an employee is hired into a small company, but just isn’t a “fit”.

The employee might be failing because he/she needs more training and support.  In those cases, if your company has the time and resources to train and motivate them, you can make them a super star!  Those are the easiest problems to address, and unfortunately also the most rare.

More often, the person talked their way into being hired, but lacks the natural talent, personality, drive, or attitude to succeed in the job they were hired to perform. You have four options when an employee isn’t working out:

  • Groom ‘em
  • Move ‘em
  • Broom ‘em
  • Ignore ‘em

The first one, “Groom them”, means to provide training and support.  It will only work if they have the natural ability to succeed.

The second option, “Move them” means to transfer or reassign them.  It’s critical that you only do this in those rare cases where the candidate has the aptitude and desire to succeed in the new position.  Otherwise, you’re moving along a problem, and not addressing it.

The third option, “Broom them” means supporting a smooth separation from the company, and to replace them with a more qualified employee.  Many small business owners struggle in these situations.  Managing talented and motivated employees who are trained and personable is EASY.  Business ownership is tough, because we need to work through those situations with employees who are failing at their jobs.  Again, when an employee isn’t successful despite a reasonable amount of coaching, training, and motivating, then you need to make a change.

The final option is to “ignore them”.  It’s never a good choice, and we’ll get into the reasons why in a moment.

Back to option three:  “Broom them”.  There are three types of separations; layoffs, terminations, and voluntary resignations.

Termination-What it is, and why- In a termination, a terminable offense(s) should be told to the employee as the reason for their termination.  The terminable offense must be well documented and “provable”.  If you don’t have that documentation/evidence, you may want to discuss the facts with a labor attorney first, before you terminate the employee.  Paying your attorney a consulting fee can save you a LOT money and time in the long run, if it helps to avoid costly and lengthy litigation.

Layoff- what it is, and when to do it Layoffs are needed when a company doesn’t have enough business to keep their whole team on the payroll.  It’s not “personal”, it’s “business”.  It’s important to avoid saying things that might be used against you in litigation or before a labor board in the future while laying off an employee.  In general “less is more” regarding the reasons for the layoff.  Layoffs usually aren’t the “fault” of the employee-they’re used when the employee’s work performance is satisfactory, but there’s not enough work for everybody.  Companies might also choose to layoff an employee if his/her performance is mediocre, but the employee hasn’t do a terminable offense (or he/she has, but you can’t prove it.)  In many states (employee “at-will” states), the employee can’t “fight” a layoff.  That said, a laid off employee CAN make a business owner’s life miserable if he/she is disgruntled, and chooses to make claims against the company (hostile workforce, discrimination etc.) after the separation.  It’s often best to have the employee sign a “release of claims” at the time of separation (this can benefit both the employee and employer-contact me for more information about this!)  Again, the more an ex-employee “likes” the business (and business owner), the less likely there will be costly repercussions that follow the employee’s separation.

Voluntary resignation When an employee isn’t a good fit, usually the best type of separation is a voluntary resignation by the employee.  He/she avoids having a termination on their permanent record.  The employee also gets to “save face” by resigning, versus being terminated.  If you offer extensive training and evaluations, and the employee isn’t successful despite the great support you provided, ideally the employee will make this choice.

Avoiding the problem “Working around” a weak employee is almost always a mistake.  It typically leads to a long miserable experience for the employee who is struggling.  It creates stress for the business owner.  Customers are affected, directly or indirectly.  Also, it affects his/her peers and supervisor.  Tragically, ignoring an employer who is the “weak link” on your team sometimes results in your BEST employees leaving, instead of the struggling team member.  DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM-DON’T IGNORE IT!

Employees “feelings” during a separation-it’s important to be nice to them!!! Finally, regardless of which type of separation happens, it’s best to leave the ex-employee leaving as “whole” and respected as possible.  You and your company can often avoid frivolous “claims” by being nice! Defending claims of wrongful termination, hostile workplace, harassment, discrimination etc. is expensive and time consuming.  When you meet with an employee regarding the separation, be compassionate, and fair.  Even if you have to “fake it” a little bit, your respect, warmth and sensitivity can save you thousands of dollars, stress, and wasted time in the long run.  Try to consider the Platinum Rule when separating an employee.  The Platinum Rule is to “treat people the way THEY want to be treated.”  You’ll usually end up ahead in the long run.