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Every manager and every HR person has to fire someone at some point. It's generally unpleasant—and rarely similar to the movies, where the employee has done something so spectacularly wrong, you can just yell "You're fired!" and everyone feels good about the decision.

Instead, the signs of an unfit employee are often more subtle, making it hard to know when to take that final step. If you're thinking an employee isn't working out, here are five signs that it's probably time to let the person go:

1) The employee makes repeated mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and most mistakes aren't reason enough to terminate someone's employment. But, if you find yourself addressing the same mistake over and over again — and the employee isn't responding to your feedback — it's time to get serious.

2) The employee is a bully. I don't care how good her work product is, if she's bullying others, it's time to get her out of the office. Bullies are toxic employees that will wreak havoc on your organization—in fact, toxic employees make good employees 54 percent more likely to quit.

3) The employee ignores office rules and norms. Some offices thrive on flexibility, and others are structured and rule based. If everyone else is in at 8:00 and this employee wanders in whenever—and this causes problems—it's time to talk.

4) The employee is blatantly unhappy. Yes, you should try to make everyone happy, but some people just can't be fixed. If someone is miserable, they pull the rest of the staff down.

5) The employee just isn't capable of doing the job. This is not talking about mistakes in one area, but an utter inability to do the work needed. Sometimes this happens as the job evolves over time.

Before You Say "You're Fired"

So, if your employee fits one or more of these five descriptions, should you simply collect their keycard and hand her the last paycheck now? No. Here's what to do first:

1) Make a formal Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). If an employee is struggling for any reason, the manager and the HR person should sit down together to come up with a plan. PIPs are usually 90 days, but you can work it out to be shorter or longer, depending on the problem. For instance, if the problem is attendance, making it a "if you're late 3 times in the next month, you're out" PIP is fine. If it's a "you need to learn 14 new systems" situation, a 180 day plan may be more appropriate.

2) Sit with the employee to go over the detailed plan. You need to explain to the employee exactly what is expected and ask her to sign it. If she balks, remind her that signing doesn't necessarily state that she agrees with it, just that she acknowledges that she has received it and that she understands the consequences. She may not agree that blowing off meetings is a big deal, but she's not the boss.

3) Follow up regularly with the employee. Some managers make the mistake of making a PIP and then not saying anything until the 90 days is up. Don't do this. You should be having weekly meetings with your employee to track progress. It should be obvious to the employee that she should start job hunting if things are not going well.

4) At the end of the PIP, fire or end it. While it may be hard to say "Today is your last day," it should be obvious whether you need to or not. If the person has not met the terms of the PIP, then you need to terminate him or her. If the person has met the terms of the PIP, congratulate them and end the PIP.

If you follow these steps, it will be clear when it's time for someone to go—and hopefully this helps improve your office culture, productivity and peace of mind.

Photo: Creative Commons