Procrastinating does no one any favours when terminating employment

Ange Connor

If you are a people manager, chances are at some stage you’ve been confronted with having to make the decision to terminate one of your team members employment.  I don’t think I have ever met a people manager who enjoys this element of the job or hasn’t lost sleep over making a decision that will impact another person so significantly. Some managers handle it better than others but it’s never a nice thing to have to do, even if it will be the best outcome for the team member in the long run. After all no one enjoys or thrives in a role where they are not playing to their strengths.

For me, when faced with the prospect of terminating an employee because they are just not working out, it’s not actually delivering the news that gets my stomach all knotted up and keeps me awake at night. It’s making the decision that I’m going to terminate a team members employment that has me losing sleep.

Talking to many people managers, it would appear that I am not alone in see-sawing when weighing up the options. Don’t get me wrong, delivering the message doesn’t come easy but it’s weighing up if I am making the right decision that I find more challenging.

We want to see the good in people. No one comes to work intentionally to do a poor job, to make mistakes, or to have a poor attitude. If that’s the case, how many chances do you give your employee? How much time do you invest in training, coaching and mentoring that team member? How long do you try to work with and change the negative problem focused woe is me attitude?

There is no hard and fast rule around how much time you give someone. In my experience every situation and every team member is different. So how do you know when you are avoiding making that hard decision or are trying to justify prolonging the decision for your own motivations?

I’ve heard all the excuses under the sun……

  • It’s not a good time, we are too busy at the moment, I will let them go when we are quiet and can manage without them…..
  • There are other things happening in their personal life right now, it’s not a good time for them…….
  • I’ll just take some of those responsibilities off them and allocate them to someone else and see how they go……
  • We need stability at the moment, I can’t risk the impact it may have on our culture……

And I’ve learnt that….

  • There is never a good time for the business to terminate an employee’s employment
  • Where the personal factors are not the cause of the performance issues – these performance issues existed long before the personal issues – maybe the stress of work and not succeeding is causing the personal issues. This one needs to be weighed up on the individual circumstances.
  • Reallocating tasks and simplifying the job until it is nearly non-existent never results in a better outcome. Chances are it frustrates your high performers and you run the risk of losing them instead
  • It’s not about stability, it’s about creating the culture you want and compromising the way you do things at your workplace or allowing mediocrity won’t do anything for your culture.

Sometimes it can be hard to see the forest through the trees.

My advice for working your way through the decision to terminate one of your team’s employment:

  • Talk it through with someone who is independent. This needs to be someone who can maintain confidentiality and who can provide an unbiased unemotional perspective. I’ve called on business mentors in the past and often they confirm what my gut has been telling me for weeks.
  • Write it down. I’m a visual person so this really works for me but even if you are not that way inclined, forcing yourself to articulate what the team member does well and the value they add to the business vs what they are not doing well and where they are not meeting your expectations can help clarify the situation. When it’s written in front of you and you have one list that’s really long and one that you struggle to add things to you probably have your answer.
  • Start conversations early. Regularly talking to and checking in with the employee is going to give you the greatest opportunity to turn the situation around. Having these conversations will also help you work your way through determining the right decision to make. How they respond to these conversations and the changes they make as a result of the feedback will determine the outcome. And if you don’t provide the feedback and have the honest conversation about where they are not meeting your expectations how will they ever know any different?

Making the decision to terminate an employee is never easy but one thing I have found through my own personal experience and through the experiences people managers have shared with me – delaying the decision, procrastinating and coming up with excuses to delay the outcome is never a win – win for either party. Cut the cord. Rip the band-aid off. In most cases the only regret people managers have is that they should have done it earlier as sometimes we don’t quite see the extent of the situation until they have left our workplace.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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