When’s the Right Time to Give an Employee the Sack?
It’s never easy firing someone. As you call the underperforming employee into your office, a million questions are bound to run through your mind. You know full well that he or she depends on his or her job to make a living: Should I give the person a second chance? How do I put it across in a nice manner? Will the severance pay be enough to support the person’s family? Jay Conger, a professor at Claremont McKenna College and coauthor of The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader, agrees, “Firing someone is an emotionally difficult task. The default mode is to think that maybe this person will turn over a new leaf.” But is avoiding the hard route of dismissal really better for your company?
Dragging it Out Does More Harm Than Good
Steve Melhuish, Co-Founder of PropertyGuru, Asia’s largest online property portal, admits sheepishly in a recent Tigerhall podcast that he had a tendency to delay firing employees at the beginning when he was growing his company. “I was concerned that firing people would have an impact on the family culture that we were trying to develop.” He also confessed that he was trying to avoid pain by dragging the process out. “I didn’t want to go through the whole process of spending the next one, two, three, four months hiring someone new to replace the person. But in hindsight, it wasn’t the right thing to do and we should have let the person go earlier.”
In Steve's case, he had met his fair share of interesting characters: a country manager who was taking on two jobs at the same time, someone who had outsourced marketing services to his wife, and an alcoholic with a poor work attitude. He was reluctant to fire all of these employees as he wanted to avoid a “hire-and-fire culture” that he thought would be detrimental to the company. But he later realized that the opposite actually applied! This is because values and culture need to be consistent. By not letting go of these bad apples immediately, you end up sending the wrong message to your team that values and culture don’t matter in the company.
And while it does take a long time to find a new replacement, it is almost always the case that the replacement will be a better fit for the company than the previous person. After all, you would now know what to look out for! This yields a net positive impact on the company’s culture.
Go With Your Gut
You know it’s time to give an employee the sack when his or her behavior disturbs you on the gut level. At this point in time, it is most likely the case that the employee’s values are not aligned with the values espoused by your company. While employee performance is something that you can work on (that’s precisely why performance improvement plans exist!), it’s a Herculean task to change the values or the attitude of a problematic employee. Spend some time coaching your hard-working employee if it’s a performance issue. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting time retaining someone who is fundamentally a wrong fit for your company.
Legal and Contractual Things To Take Note Of
Once you have decided to fire your employee, remember to treat him or her with respect that he or she deserves as a fellow human being. It is also always a good idea to comply with the local Human Resource regulations. In Singapore for example, issuing a termination letter is mandatory, failing which, the employee will still be considered an employee of your company.
Employers should also continuously give their employees feedback before he or she is fired. This is to ensure that the employee is crystal clear on why the conversation of letting him or her go is taking place. Also document all of these down somewhere, which should help to minimize the likelihood of disputes happening should your employee feel that he or she is wrongfully fired.
In conclusion, nobody wants to be on the receiving end of the firing stick. But a good employer would avoid dragging out the dismissal process to reduce the agony experienced by both sides. Hence, If there’s one thing you should take away with you from this blog post, it’s to fire fast and hire slow. Do not be apprehensive of dismissing your employee when the time is right, and take your time to interview potential hires to make sure that they are the right fit for your company.