10 signs it’s time to let an employee go


Everyone has done it – held on to an employee too long. For whatever reason (the person is family, a friend, or you just fear the whole process), you just can’t seem to muster up the courage to get rid of that one particular employee. For some managers/owners, it’s a simple process. For others, the prospect of releasing an employee is a gut-wrenching experience they’d rather avoid. It doesn’t have to be. Not when you have telltale signs it’s time to let that employee go. Sometimes, he or she is practically asking for it.

Use these as tips for how and when you should release an employee.

1. Apathy
The biggest problem with apathy is that it not only prevents people from doing their jobs, it’s quite contagious. Should you wind up with an outbreak of apathy, recovery can be quite a chore. If an apathetic employee is one who previously displayed no such behavior, it would be to your benefit to get a feel for what’s going on. If the employee is undergoing a personal issue, make sure he understands that, although you respect his personal life, he needs to keep the apathy in check. If the employee indicates no issues are going on, then it’s very likely his apathy is aimed specifically at work.

2. Disappearing acts
If disappearing acts are preceded by the employee dressing up (beyond the norm) or other changes in behavior, it could mean he’s already scouting out new employment. If not, he could simply be skirting his duties. Either way, ducking out beyond regularly scheduled breaks is a sure sign you have an employee who feels he’s above and beyond the job. Not only do you risk other employees assuming unscheduled disappearing acts are allowed, those who do follow the rules will become resentful.

3. Arguments
Argumentative employees usually take two forms: those employees who feel strongly about their positions and those who have grown weary of their environment and wish to argue for the simple act of releasing aggression. If the former, congratulations, you have a passionate employee! If the latter, you have someone on your team who has reached the point where a blowup is imminent. When the latter begins frequently arguing with you, other management, fellow employees, or clients, it’s a very good sign that it’s time for that employee to go. If you’re kindhearted, you could (and probably should) bring the employee in for a conference to see if any issues can be resolved. Otherwise, it’s “Hit the road.”

4. Productivity decline
Production loss can come for many reasons. Sometimes staff can become overloaded with work or be placed on a project they have no business on because they lack the skill set. Other times, a drop in production can come for no apparent reason. It’s when this type of slowdown occurs that attention must be paid to the culprit. If the employee in question seems to be spending more time with his eyes in places other than their work, it’s time to bring that employee in for a chat. When that happens, the employee will either deny your claims or make excuses for his (in)action.

5. Secrecy
Huddled employees who scatter when you appear are a problem. When you start hearing whispered tales around the office, that could mean dissension is spreading like wildfire. In some cases, those tales can be traced back to one particular member of the team. It’s always best to get to the heart of the matter before that discontent (or false information) is spread among the masses.

6. Disaffection
Cleaning house is a bad sign. When you an employee slowly removing her personal effects from her desk, you should take that as a sure bet the employee is starting to disassociate herself from her job and the company. The end game in this scenario is a slow severing of the ties that bind. During that process bad blood can be spilled. If you find this employee already dangling on an unsteady precipice, it’s time she was cut loose.

7. Pot-stirring
This one of the most damaging behaviors you’ll find in the office. When you see signs of this behavior, the first thing you must do is find out who is holding the spoon. The one fomenting trouble, whether it’s by spreading rumors or setting employees against one another, is doing so for a reason (either legitimate or not). That staff member must be dealt with quickly or you’ll never calm the sauce of your department/company.
8. Unreasonable demands
When an employee becomes dissatisfied with either her jobs or her work environments, she’ll start asking for things that aren’t realistic. She is practically begging for you to let them go. If you find this to be the case, oblige her. Do take one thing under consideration – if more than one employee seems to be making unreasonable demands, it is upon you to figure out if there is one employee driving this coup or if you have actually created an environment that breeds such behavior. Take responsibility and try to view the situation objectively; you might discover something that can be easily remedied.

9. Redundancy
If you’re lucky, you can afford to keep someone around for the times when his or her skills are a necessity, even if that need ebbs and flows. When business is in high demand, those redundancies can keep you afloat, but when business is slow, you’re spending more than you need. The most important thing is to try and strike a balance. But economics might lead to the hard decision to cull the herd a bit, and rely on a contractor if and when the situation requires it.

10. Internal affairs
I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill office politics. I’m talking about emotional and sexual affairs. It’s tough to devise a policy that prevents dating among employees, but it’s smart. As much as we don’t want to admit this, inter-office romance can be a breeding ground for big trouble. When this happens, you’ll find yourself cleaning up messes you don’t want to be involved in. Try to avoid this altogether by creating a strong policy concerning relationships in the workplace. If someone breaks that policy – they have to go.

The hiring and firing of employees is a tough business. This is especially true when you’re trying to create an environment of trust and ease. In the end, there will always be hard decisions to make.


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