Firing a Popular Employee
Q: I have recently terminated an employee who was very well-liked by our staff but who was not beneficial to our company due to behavioral problems. My concern is that he will influence the morale of the existing staff by saying he was unfairly terminated. Without releasing all the details of his termination, how do I handle this with the remaining staff?
A: It is always difficult to terminate employees under any condition, but it is especially difficult when the person has good peer relations with the remaining employees. For that reason, such terminations are usually done poorly. That is to say that employers take way too long to make the decision or they wait until the problem is so severe that everyone is in agreement that the person must go. Not only is this devastating to the employee who is terminated, but it also usually results in less confidence in leadership with the remaining employees.
The most common complaint of unfair treatment in the workplace comes from management's failure to deal with poor work behavior and poor performance. Good performers, in particular, don't like when management tolerates this type of behavior. They see management's failure to deal with these situations as making their work more difficult. Good performers are often called on to take on tasks that poor performers don't get done or do poorly.
I suspect that your employees were aware of the problems you mention, and even though they liked the dismissed employee, they will respect what you have done. They may show some public sympathy, but privately they will like the fact that you did what you did, and some will probably tell you. You do not need to do anything extraordinary--you did what needed to be done to run your business in an efficient and effective manner, and everyone should benefit in the long run. At this point, it should be business as usual.
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If people trust you, even the employee's closest friends will eventually respond appropriately. Don't try in any way to keep your employees from communicating with him. This will work against what you want to happen, because it will give the terminated employee a platform. He will be able to put doubt in their minds about you and your motives. He might say things like, "Why doesn't she want you to talk to me? What is she trying to hide?"
Now is the time to be particularly attentive to even the smallest accomplishments among your remaining employees. Of course, I think you should do that as a standard way of running your business, but be particularly sensitive to it at this time. This will help create a positive atmosphere that will counteract anything negative the terminated employee might be saying. One word of caution: Don't overlook poor performance of others during this time, as this will fuel his case of unfair treatment. Be vigilant for opportunities to positively reinforce good work habits and good performance, but don't hesitate to apply negative sanctions when the behavior warrants it. If you do these things, I am sure your problem will be minimized, and you'll have better prepared your company for the future.
Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.