What Could be Worse than Terminating an Employee?

January 16, 2022

What Could be Worse than Terminating an Employee?

Thought Leadership from the CEO’s Desk

Richard Leaver, Alliance PTP CEO – I used to think the hardest task a manager had to perform was terminating an employee as a result of their poor performance or inappropriate behaviors. It should never be easy delivering such news to an employee, even if they are obviously unfit to complete the tasks and responsibilities they were employed to do. Even when the employee is expecting it and a number of disciplinary levels have been formally communicated to the individual, it remains a difficult conversation for all parties concerned. I always try my best to make sure the employee is treated in a respectful manner and acknowledge their perspective and comments. 

Don’t underestimate the impact

Regardless of whether the employee accepts the news of termination graciously or not, it should never feel comfortable or easy to terminate the employment of an individual. The gravity of the potential and real consequences to the employee and the organization should never be under estimated.  I believe it should always force you take a hard look at oneself and the culture of the organization you are representing.   If one finds the task of terminating an employee a relatively easy task to perform I would question the moral character of the manager or / and the type of organizational culture that exists. 

I find myself spending a significant amount of time emotionally and mentally preparing for such conversations. I always want to make sure that I feel confident I have been fair and reasonable with the employee and given them ample opportunity and coaching to avoid the termination. Also, I am acutely cognizant of the potential financial and emotional stress the termination may have on the employee and their family.  My goal of the termination conversation is to provide the necessary clarity and hopefully closure for the employee being terminated and allow all parties to move forwards with a positive perspective. While this sounds great in theory, whether this is achieved on a consistent basis in reality is debatable. 

So, what is worse than terminating an employee?

As I develop as a leader, I have come to realize I have been wrong about terminating an employee being the hardest job a manager may be tasked with. I now believe there is one thing that is harder than terminating an employee. That is, not terminating an employee who should be.

Even when the employee possesses a skill set that is scarce and extremely difficult to recruit for it is better to hold them accountable and terminate employment when appropriate. Otherwise, the continued employment of an underperforming employee causes ongoing disruption and damage to the organization. Along with the productivity inefficiencies, there are negative consequences to the culture of the company and immediate team. 

However painful or disruptive the termination is in the short to medium term difficulties for the organization, it is always positive in the long term. I am regularly surprised by the very positive reaction by the remaining employees when their colleague is terminated. Instead of being concerned about the additional workload this may create, they process the news with a sense of relief and calm.  

While I hope I will never get comfortable to terminating an underperforming employee, I am able to sleep in the knowledge that I always completed due diligence and positively impacted the company’s morale, culture and performance.