A Manager’s Toughest Job: Heed this Advice when it’s Time to Let an Employee Go

Letting an employee go without causing financial or emotional stress to your company is just about the hardest task for a manager. Sometimes it’s easy, such as when an employee is late for work ten days out of ten, or gets into a fist fight or comes in drunk or high on drugs. It’s the marginal employees that give managers grief—the ones just getting by are the tough fires. Read on for some advice.

START WITH A CONVERSATION

First, you have to decide that “Mr. X” isn’t working out. Don’t wait and hope he’ll improve. If it’s been on your mind for a while, and during this time he hasn’t changed—even though you wished for it—he won’t improve. If you’re following an employee review system, is this employee still doing what he’s always done, or has something changed? Even if you don’t follow such a system, have a private conversation with him. Prepare by reviewing his performance with another manager in your company.

When you talk to Mr. X explain how you feel, giving concrete examples. Let him speak, and listen for hidden problems, such as how he’s getting along with other workers or customers. Give him specific goals and a timetable to achieve these goals, usually no longer than 30 days.

At the 30-day mark, if he’s turned around, you have a winner. If not, you
have a second conversation, with another manager joining you. Discuss Mr.
X’s options. He can improve to the level you need within 15 days, or you will let him go.

Same thing at 15 days. Either he has risen to the level needed, or you let him go. In this conversation, have another supervisor with you. State that his work hasn’t been acceptable and that he’s leaving the company. There’s no debate, no more chances, no excuses. Be concise; the more you say the easier it is for him to misconstrue your words.

IT’S TOUGHER THAN IT SOUNDS

This may all sound so simple, but it really isn’t. I lost sleep whenever I had to fire a person who fit the above scenario. Most people accepted the conversation and moved on. There were a few who hotly contested, saying I was either prejudiced, sexist or just a stupid fool. I still remember a few of these—and you will too. Don’t let this situation alter your plan. One of the toughest ones was when a wife called looking for her husband and the office
operator said he no longer worked for us. She asked to speak with me and was now in tears. Her husband had been going out every morning and coming home in the evening, she said. I didn’t want to be in that house that night.

What about the fight in the shop between two employees? Stop the fight, and immediately tell them both they’re on suspension and have each meet you tomorrow at a designated time. Space them an hour apart. Start investigating as soon as they leave. When you know what caused the fight and who threw the first punch, you can make better decisions. Sometimes one person is totally wrong and he gets terminated at your meeting. If the other was strictly defending himself, he goes back to work and gets paid for the suspension time. If they were both at fault, they both go.

A fight in a glass shop or fabrication facility is extremely dangerous. The only way to change your mind is to give one or both a 90-day suspension and, upon return to work, a one-year probation.

Your job as a leader is to create a safe and productive workplace. Changing personnel is tough and sometimes heart-wrenching. Remember this as you grow in your position or when you promote people to management slots.

Paul Bieber has more than 40 years’ experience in the glass industry, with C.R. Laurence and as executive vice president of Floral Glass in New York. He is now the principal of Bieber Consulting Group LLC and can be reached at paulbaseball@msn.com. Read his blog on Tuesdays at http://usgpaul.usglassmag.com.

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