How Do You Know When It's Time to Fire Someone?

If you’re in a position of power, it’s likely the dreaded day will come where you have to fire someone. It is one of the most difficult leadership responsibilities, but it has to be done. The act of firing someone is hard enough, but how do you know when it’s time? How do you know when Joe Schmoe has got to go?

Employers are often aware of a troubled employee for weeks, months, sometimes even years before they finally fire them. Occasionally they never fire an employee, even if that employee is a problem. This is in part because the act of firing someone is uncomfortable and often fiercely difficult, and it can be hard to know when it’s really time for an employee to go. Sometimes you may feel the urge to try to turn a difficult employee around, even if its the third, fourth, fifth time you’ve tried. Unfortunately, keeping bad employees on staff doesn’t just negatively impact the quality and quantity of work you assign them, it also affects those around them.

Here are four signs its time for an employee to go:

1. They aren’t performing up to expectations

If you give an employee quotas or expectations and they consistently fail, it’s a sign of a problem. When an employee can’t keep up with their workload, and hasn’t approached you to address the problem, it costs you money. It also causes stress for other employees who are left to pick up the slack. A solution to this may be an improvement plan; this could be anything from moving deadlines to shifting responsibilities towards their strengths. Unfortunately you won’t always see improvement even after action has been taken. In this case it’s better to fire an employee than to keep them on staff and let your other employees’ work suffer.

2. Bad behavior fails to improve

When you confront an employee about performance issues, they often attempt to improve their behavior. If a confronted employee responds with disinterest or worsening behavior, chances are things aren’t going to get better. Similarly, if an employee is disrespectful or rude, regularly late, or misses deadlines, it affects the behavior of other employees. Continuing bad behavior, even after an employee has been given multiple chances to change, is an irrefutable sign it’s time for them to go. To prevent yourself from making excuses for the employee, give them three strikes after initially talking to them before firing them. 

3. They are negative, unenthusiastic, or lack drive

In the early stages of employment employees are often motivated and enthusiastic, but sometimes they lose that motivation over time. Lack of commitment to their work hurts productivity, and a bad attitude hurts morale. Negativity spreads like wildfire, and a problem employee can cause other employees to struggle to focus or complete their own projects. Enthusiasm and drive is necessary for creative problem solving. An employee lacking these characteristics will struggle to keep up with work and will bring down the mood of those around them.

4. You’re getting customer, vendor, or employee complaints

By nature, businesses can only be successful by pleasing their customers and vendors. Complaints happen occasionally but becomes a problem when they are ongoing and about one person. If an employee is frequently complained about, even after you’ve discussed the problem with them, they are hurting your company’s reputation and losing you sales. Your employees need to be a positive representation of your company. Internal complaints are equally important; employee objections need to be taken equally seriously. If an employee is getting complaints from multiple coworkers, it’s a sign they are disrupting the workplace and it’s probably time to fire that employee.

While firing someone is distasteful work, someone needs to do it. Everyone discusses how to fire someone but often forget how difficult it is to gauge when it’s time. OpenSesame offers courses on communication in difficult situations, preventing bad hires, and understanding how to properly fire an employee that can help you know when its time to fire someone and go through with it legally and effectively.