Most people would feel very lucky to work for an organization that is reluctant to fire anyone. And, admittedly, that attitude is better than an intolerant one in which employees aren't nurtured to perform at their best. But there is a downside to keeping a person no matter what their job performance is like, especially when that person doesn't respond to attempts to reform him or her.
Case in point: I once worked for a company that divided employees into production teams. Occasionally, we would restructure for reasons such as efficiency or product focus (or because the CEO got inspired by the latest business trend he read about in the Harvard Business Review).
There was one employee who was continuously being singled out for performance issues. In fact, she'd been on double-secret HR probation about a million times. She'd survive the probationary period because her goals were strictly spelled out, but then she'd go back to her old ways. The problem was that no manager in this "kum ba yah" company wanted to be the one to fire her, so she would just be transferred to a new team in every restructure.
A fellow manager was once lucky enough to get her on his team, along with her personnel file which was roughly the size of two New York City phone books. Since he had a sense of humor, he had to laugh at the sight gag, but she soon became a real thorn in his side. Again, she would respond to expectations as long as they were spelled out in probationary terms but would revert to bad performance once the period was over.
Ironically, the company soon relocated and she, as well as the rest of us, was given a severance. She essentially escaped scot-free. Because of legal restrictions imposed by the company, anyone checking on her references was told only her dates of service -- nothing about her specific performance. As far as any future employers were concerned, she'd been an employee for four years for a successful company.
The coddling didn't do her any favors. She was a young person and should have been learning some lessons about the working world -- even the hard ones. She really should have learned that there are serious repercussions for not taking your job seriously.
Have any of you ever worked for a company whose reluctance to let employees go created a hardship for other employees?
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.