IT Employment

10 signs it's time to let an employee go

For some it's tough to let an employee go, even when the signs are obvious. If you see these behaviors, prepare to make a personnel move.
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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.



About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

48 comments
bkessie
bkessie

I appreciate the list. I'm a bit old schooled that believes I get a paycheck for doing the job I was hired to do.  To those who haven't had the privilege of managing others maybe they should give it a try. Honestly the little bit of extra income along with the extra hours, stress and little appreciation is not worth the title. Give me a cubicle and workload any day over managing employees.

pamelahaley
pamelahaley

did this site really just erase my entire comment after forcing me to register to post?...

boucaria
boucaria

This really should be a list about managers, and not about employees. I have seen the circumstances in the early 90s right up to the current time. Management culture is to blame each and every time. Like they say in Yes Minister, the 5 stages of creative inertia work the best... and so the charge of the false accusations continue; anyone read WORKING OURSELVES TO DEATH ? a US specific book ?

tceconomou
tceconomou

You should rename this article to 10 signs that your management team has issues. Most, if not all of these problems can be caused by poor management and bad company policy.

GroupHug
GroupHug

Did that horse twitch? . . . or was that a breeze in its mane? . . . assumed there is still some spark of life and decided to smack it again.

Even more insidious:  the lip-service performance improvement policy that allows record of an apparent attempt at accountability on the part of management for an employee, but all too often replaces accountability. Eliminate the risk by getting as much background as possible regarding a corporation's morality or accountability. Vague wording in a pat mission or vision statement doesn't just have to serve as something that sounds nice about a place of business, but rather indicates a priority. A watered-down statement of mission on the HR wall might mean weak efforts towards employee development, retention & happiness.

For Jack: Thanks for hanging this out there for what turned out to be some great feedback.



markov
markov

#8 Unreasonable demands - If more than one person in a group, is asking for the same thing, are you Sure it is "unreasonable"?

"We need to have More than 15 minutes, for our lunch break".  This might cause the company to have less daily work, from its employees... But, is it Unreasonable?

A few years ago, I worked in a catering hall. If you worked the Morning shift AND the Evening shift, in One day, you often had to grab whatever food you could, going from one shift to the next. You did NOT have a Rest period between. Should the employees have been Fired, if they asked for some time to Sit Down and get some nourishment, that was Not grabbed from the trays going into the next party room?  Maybe to wipe some whipped cream off of their uniform? Or to change to another one?


Better to find out,  Why some people are asking for something. If a group of employees are asking for the company to hire butlers, to take care of items, at their homes, while they are at work. Instead of firing them, check for Gas/chemical leaks in their areas.

If they are asking for the company to purchase a specific item, software or hardware, to help them do their jobs; maybe it couldn't hurt to do research, that could find that this item could actually help the employees AND the company, to do the job better.

tvmuzik
tvmuzik

If you need TEN signs to let an employee go, you're a lousy manager.

About sign #5: Secrecy--- "Huddled employees who scatter when you appear are a problem." 

As in ""Roaches scatter whenever someone steps inside a dark room and turns the light on.""

....... so then, who are you calling "Roaches"?!

firstaborean
firstaborean

Here are two other reasons to fire, both from a company for which I did some work in the 1980's:

(1)  He was spending as many as four hours a day on company business over the telephone, but it was not for this company, but for his own side business.  I talked with the Director of Operations, who said that he was watching this fellow.  I asked if I could offer some sort of advice or warning, and was told, "Don't mention anything I've told you."  So I did give warning, but didn't mention that the boss was watching.  The employee angrily told me to mind my own business.  He was fired the next day.

(2)  This employee was buying things, such as tools, on company requisitions, which, once approved, he would alter so as to increase the quantities.  When the orders came in, he would take the excess to sell to people at his church (!).  Both his immediate supervisor and I told the boss about this, giving evidence.  This time, the boss did not fire the employee, saying that he was his "charity case."  Bad mistake, in my book.

Stealing from a company is always good ground for firing.

vandalii
vandalii

In general, these are pretty good indications the employee in question needs some mgr face-time to figure out what will help employee back on track (or whether she/he is even interested in getting back on track).  They are also the kinds of things that go into verbal and written warnings so are very real to both the employer and the employee.

I do disagree that #6: Disaffection is a sign to let folks go.  When my company began a series of layoffs, I began taking things home so it wouldn't be a long, drawn out affair packing up and leaving if I got tapped.  It wasn't so much a matter of disaffection as my way of dealing with uncertainty.  If I am let go, it'll take me 10 min. to pack up and be gone.  Before I made the mental transition that work != home, it might've been several loads down to the car with my trinkets, pictures, books, files, etc.  Now, if we're done with each other, not an protracted and painful extraction.

I'm not pushing to go, I just know the company might let me go, so I'm ready now.

zd
zd

Yep, the author would make a horrible manager!  In his first reign of terror, he would be busy firing employees, hiring new ones who would do well until they become disenchanted and leave/get fired,  He would end up with mindless incompetent droids that act the way he wants or his own superior would clue in that he is not a good manager.  A good manager would reassign Jack to going back to what he does best: "tinker with Linux... "   Techrepublic seems to allow anyone to write things they are completely incompetent with?   I really, really hope Jack is not in a management position today and the only advise I have for his poor employees is "fake it, it won't be long .... unless Jack's manager himself isn't as totally incompetent as Jack himself..."  I've had my fare share of great managers and horrible ones and the horrible ones shared a lot of Jack's mentality.  The poor ones are completely insecure and manage to show their position as "the boss" instead of being great leaders.   Not good management material at all.

bratwizard
bratwizard

And the Number One Sign?

When he or she is sitting here reading this instead of doing their work.

(Name and Employer withheld by request :-)

u0107
u0107

Why is it that the article focuses only on the employee and not on the manager as well - after all you need two hands to clap, isn't it?

So, here's a list of reasons when an employee must be let go:

1) When your employee starts displaying instances where he is more intelligent than you are - especially in the presence of your own manager.

2) When your employee comes up with grounds for promotions / increments / enhancement of responsibilities and all those grounds have a foundation in metrics which you cannot controvert.

3) When you ask your employee whether what you do is correct or not.

4) When your manager invites your employee along with you to solve a problem whose solution is in your department.

5) When your manager has more frequent skip-level meetings with your employees.

rcornelia
rcornelia

It's easy and popular to criticize leadership when you have no accountability. Just read the comments and honestly ask yourself what it would be like to have your job performance dependent upon the work of these people.

mrjude
mrjude

What is seriously sad about this column is the assumption that the employee is an office machine: one that should be replaced when it shows signs of wear.  People sometimes have problems folks!  Once a manager gets the reputation of someone who is only interested in the employee as a production unit, the end is near; for the employee, the manager and the work group.  What this column basically says is that humanity in the workplace is dead. Better stay happy people!  Don't allow your personal life to intrude on your work...or some nimrod that actually believes this drivel will decide that you need to go.  it doesn't surprise me that there are managers that actually believe this stuff...but it is disquieting when a publication actually prints it.

bmerc
bmerc

It's interesting how many of these employee behaviors could also be directly attributable to you, the manager, being awful at your job. 


don_marek
don_marek

Wow! More lame stream media drivel on how us peons should become better slaves. I know of few that are against profit, productivity, or doing a good job, but this list could also be the result of stupid management.

Molly M
Molly M

Does anyone else get distracted by articles that contain typos and incorrectly used words? Are those errors of the author or the editor? It causes me to discount the content, regardless of what it says.

kjohnson
kjohnson

What are the ten signs that it's time to let the manager go?

l.kobiernicki
l.kobiernicki

There is absolutely no mention here, of how the company has treated ( or is treating ) the employee, in all of this.  I find that extremely suspect.  Corporates are not fluffy bunnies, pure white as the driven snow.  Far from it !  They are profit-extracting machines, intent on forcing their will on all and sundry.

Something you may not have considered, or known of, will have happened to a person, being deformed into exhibiting these danger signs.  When employees join, they may be full of hope and believe that the new post or opening, will bring them some of what they thought had been offered.  Working there, may soon disabuse them, of the naive and hopeful credulity the company carefully traded on .. 

Perhaps the promised promotion never materialized; or pay was frozen, while the workloads were escalated, being multiplied by 100%, or 200%, or even 300%.  This all happened observably,; little wonder, then, the poor staff were hacked off.  And hacked off, soon metamorphoses into " I don't care ".  From then, the only route forward -- is: to leave.. On your own terms, if possible .. Once company credibility is gone, its loyalty to the employee, exposed as non-existent, employee loyalty vanishes, too,.

We should consider the 10 behaviours listed, fully in the context of the working environment that the company has provided,- whether it follows its own rules and regulations, or not - and whether it triggers the rumbling signs of disaffection, and demurral.  

Without any searching consideration of that missing dimension, the hit-list of signals, is a green light, for the Leviathans, to do just as they please.  If they do, then they deserve all they get.  Contracts of employment, are bilaterial - not just from us to them !

kfilius
kfilius

Why is the employee in both 6. Disaffection and 8. Unreasonable demand specifically a 'she'? Personal experience of the author?

kotzeel
kotzeel

This is another article that is more or less basically something that should be blogged in some HRrepublic forum. Nonetheless - I have seen this phrase "For others (managers), the prospect of releasing an employee is a gut-wrenching experience they'd rather avoid." or something similar, alluding to managers being afraid, reluctant, slow and avoiding to address the personnel  issues in their various teams. These people are not doing their work as surely as any team member not doing his/her work. Rather provide us with an article for a top management audience on how to recognise these useless managers.

andrewajw
andrewajw

This (lazy & unquestioning) anti-office affairs stance is so tedious & utterly wrong. More marriages have resulted from office affairs than almost anything or anywhere else .. after all, if we are working 100%, when else do any of us have the opportunity to meet & fall in love with others? It always seems to me to be simply  a cowardly, trouble-avoidance strategy - nothing else. It is the type of rule that gives HR wonks a warm feeling, but wrecks normal life for everyone else.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Leading/managing "employees is a tough business. This is especially true when you're trying to create an environment of trust and ease."

Don't TRY to create a good environment.. Do it, or not. There is no try. Sadly there are too many folks in management who are incapable of fostering that environment.

Ahmed_burn
Ahmed_burn

The author seemed to have suffered all the above scenarios with one or more employees, otherwise this is pure racism lacking any management thought process. But something tells me that the author has never been in a position to be able to fire some one, in fact he seems to be a guy who was on the other end :S

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

What are Jack's qualifications as a manager/leader? His bio seems to bang on more about his love affair with open-source and zombies than his management skills.

Skilled Laborer
Skilled Laborer

@Kieron: any manager that thinks they exist only to manage workers, won't exist long. What company can you name that says to its managers: "you are only managers of people." No, most managers must devise and set strategy; develop business; cater to customers; fight for resources and create budgets; find new technology;  drive new initiatives etc. I agree that if employees are acting out, the manager should be looked at carefully, but in modern business, managers are expected to do so much more than just manage. I do like the concept that managers are there to serve employees. Too often, that's not how managers see it. Anyway, if employees are visibly acting out, it's already too late for their manager.

Kieron Seymour-Howell
Kieron Seymour-Howell

This is a good list for new managers and people who are less aware of psychology and other basic forms of human emotion and behaviour.  Every manager needs to recognize these warning signs well before the behaviour becomes obvious.

If you have more than a few people exhibiting these behaviours, I think it is time that your managers get the pink slip, not the employees.  Most often this type of office behaviour occurs when people are promoted due to incompetence, because they are family, or some other reason rather than actually investing in a REAL manager in the office.  Managers are like the conductor of an orchestra, they are there to SERVE the employees and enable them with their experience and authority.

Managers mainly there to do work behind a desk, but specifically to walk around and ensure the smooth and effective running of the company or department under their responsibility.  If your manager is busy doing work, then get a specialist or employee for that.  The manager is there to MANAGE PEOPLE.  Avoid the employees getting to these obvious stages of moral and professional misconduct.  If you have people doing these things, it is time to get a new manager.

alzie
alzie

Geez, ive suffered from most of these myself.

No wonder that ive committed carreer suicide a few times!

Burn out is insidious and endemic!

Skilled Laborer
Skilled Laborer

Are you serious? What childish advice. Wouldn't a senior manager have better things to do than try to overhear what's being said about him or her around the water cooler? This wonderful advice feeds boss paranoia, which, when noticed by employees, destroys morale. Witch hunts are for fools. 

My advice: lead by example, show genuine interest in your employees -- good will, productivity and engagement flow from that. This is advice for the typical, crappy, unskilled manager. Thanks Jack. Glad I don't work for you. In the interest of recycling this article, just put a new heading on it: "10 signs your boss is  incompetent, paranoid and possibly sadistic."

matt
matt

Pretty good list.... Now excuse me, I have to go fire myself.

aphorist
aphorist

I'd let an employee go when my arms started to get tired.

Ah, no, you mean fired, dismissed, terminated etc.

skf
skf

I would let the poor manager go who was wasting his time on this type of petty nonsense.  Focus on the work to be done or the problem to be solved and all of these petty junior high problems disappear.

Rebecca Apppli
Rebecca Apppli

Seems a bit obvious, if you ask me. I don't think the 'signs' are as much of a problem as actually getting rid of the person.

 

Edited by moderator to remove promotional link - Rebecca, please refrain from adding promotional links at the bottom of your postings.

Christopher Mendoza
Christopher Mendoza

If it irks you to even make eye contact with your manager, you might want to start making plans.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

I would advise you that Number 10 in that list might earn you a business breaking law suit. While businesses should have a strong policy against harassment, they are treading on some very thin ice when attempting to regulate love lives. I've worked for 3 companies that had those policies and came to regret them when they tried to enforce them and the juries came back with a decision in the favor of the plaintiff

There are several states which have some pretty draconian penalties for violating privacy rights, as well as states which guarantee "free association." You also could easily run afoul of federal workplace laws, especially if anyone can claim a minority status (disabled, over 50, racial, female, etc.).

Having a policy against supervisors dating employees is easily written and enforced; however, I really recommend that you don't write a policy against 2 peers or non-peers dating. It is going to end up costing you large amounts of cash, even if you "win" the suit, you may end up with a black eye in the public's view.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

@tvmuzik imo, #5--secrecy, is an indication of poor management, not an indication of a single bad employee who needs firing. Same with a couple others. I mean seriously, if you're talking about _group_ behavior, it isn't a single employee now so you might start looking at the problems the group members have in common (which is usually a manager).

stevec
stevec

@kfilius Some writers, in order to avoid the awkward or odd-looking use of "he or she" or "s/he" will alternate the male and female pronouns in different paragraphs so as to be all-encompassing and non-sexist.

stevec
stevec

@andrewajw It's like zero-tolerance policies in schools. We don't want to have to decide a case on its merits because it will take time, get us in trouble, or make us look bad, so we'll just avoid the decision-making altogether with a policy aimed at the extreme. Of course, they end up looking bad anyway, when the results make them look like fools, and make them the target of lawsuits.

SirWizard
SirWizard

Ahmed_burn, you do not understand what the word "racism" means. It means unfairly associating a characteristic, generally a negative characteristic, to persons because they are of a specific race, or to the race as a whole. There were no associations made in the article about the race of any person or persons, or to any races.

jred
jred

@Ahmed_burn I didn't agree with the article, and thought most of the reasons could have been better titled "How to tell your company/mangers mistreats it's employees". 

What I *didn't* see was anything that could possibly be construed as "pure racism".

Rick in PA
Rick in PA

@RMSx32767Hey, thanks for the mention of his bio (Full Bio).  That led to some interesting web pages.  This may be a bit cryptic, but  I'll add "Shoemaker, stick to your last!".

radams36
radams36

@RMSx32767 Exactly what I was thinking. This 'article' is appallingly amoral and uninformed. It caters to the short-sighted, short-term view so prevalent today in business, and so utterly backwards and counterproductive in the long-term view. People aren't just commodities, Jack, and this article very much paints them as though they are. Your articles on open source issues show that you are hardly an objective thinker, so I'm less than surprised. But I am disappointed.

gvtooker
gvtooker

@Skilled Laborer I absolutely agree...  this list could very well be an indicator of poor management/leadership skills, especially when it comes to apathetic employees. Sure burn-out can be a factor, but figure that if otherwise productive employees start losing interest in the job or generally acting up there is a reason for it. A competent leader is going to take the time to find out why and make appropriate corrections before letting people go ever becomes a consideration. If the company as a whole has a problem with turn-over, that should be taken very seriously as a sign of incompetent management.

sbelsinger
sbelsinger

I agree with SirWizard's statement that it would be bad writing, but the fact is the author is not alternating. In my opinion all the statements should have been left gender neutral. Some of them are, which gives the reader the implicit message that the author believes certain behaviors are more likely to be displayed by a certain sex. At best that is stereotyping, at worst it is sexist.

SirWizard
SirWizard

Alternating gender or using female pronouns obtusely is bad writing. It explicitly doubles down on being non-encompassing and sexist, emphasizing sexism where none is implied.

Political correctness does not overrule good writing practice, which requires consistent and correct usage. If the discussion would need more than one or two at most of such workaround forms as, "the employee should," "one can request," or "he or she can choose," the author must use the default gender forms. For both written and spoken English, they are the MALE pronouns. It's not a sleight against females--that's the way English is. Sorry, ladies. You simply don't get pronoun parity in, "The dictator didn't care that he had caused the deaths of tens of millions, including millions of his own countrymen."

We don't have heshe, himher, or hishers to use as neutral pronouns. Or shehe, herhim, or hershis. We have he, him, and his, unless the context requires female-specific usage. The article under discussion, however, was not about bridesmaid apparel or women's political candidate preferences. It was about employees.

So, no female pronouns or the extra mid-sentence workaround (or the missing word) for:

"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 correct version is:

"When you see an employee slowly removing his personal effects from his desk, you should take that as a sure bet he is starting to disassociate himself from his job and the company."