Human Resource Management

Firing an Employee

Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

Letting an employee go can be one of the hardest parts of managing a small business. If an employee is consistently exhibiting sub-par behavior, there comes a time when you have to let them go.

Running a small business, we often get close to our employees.

Firing an Employee

Our employees are needed to do a variety of job functions and we often ask them to go the extra mile to help us complete our goals.

In many cases, this helps build loyalty, as the small business owner appreciates the efforts of their employees.

While this loyalty is justified in most cases, there are bad apples. And the line between being loyal to your employees and being taken advantage of is easily crossed.

If you have an employee who is a detriment to the company and the team, you can only stay loyal for so long.

Retaining employees is a key component for most small businesses' success. It leads to loyalty among employees and naturally reduces the costs a company could pay in hiring, firing and training. Employees who grow with the company can be cross-trained and have a better appreciation for the road that lay behind us. Unfortunately, there are instances where employees know they are in the manager's good graces and take advantage of the situation.

If an employee has been with the company for a long time starts exhibiting poor behavior, it's time to nip the problem in the bud.

Something is obviously troubling the employee for them to act out in this manner. You should attempt to sit down with the employee to talk to them about what's on their mind. If you truly have a good working relationship with this employee, they will explain what the problem is. It could be personal reasons or an issue at work.

You should do your best to address the problem if its work related. If it's a personal issue, simply showing that you care may be enough to rectify the situation. Remember, it's better to bring the situation to the forefront sooner rather than later.

If the employee claims nothing is bothering them and they continue to exhibit poor behavior it's time to take matters to the next level. A formal write-up may be in order and another sit-down.

During this meeting it should be explained to the employee the negative effects of their actions. Again, you should try to be helpful in addressing the employee's problem. If they do not identify an issue at this time, things may not get better. If this is the case, a formal write up should definitely be issued.

If after these two meetings the employee is still a hindrance to your operation, it's time to consider letting the employee go. This can be extremely difficult, especially if it's an employee who has been there since the beginning.

You can use this opportunity to give the employee a final warning and one more chance to fix the issues at hand. You should express your own personal feelings towards the employee and how you're hurt by the current situation. If the employee does not respond to your words, it's time to move on.

When you let an employee go, they should have an idea that it's coming. Instead of blind-siding an employee, you've taken the appropriate measures to meet with the employee to rectify the situation.

In addition, you've given written warnings and an ultimatum. If they do not improve their behavior after these steps, there's little choice but to let them go. It's always hard letting someone go, especially someone who has been with the company for a long time.

When we're dealing with business, however, we cannot afford to keep an employee on board who does not want to be there or help the company.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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Help us out by offering your comments, tips, questions or suggestions regarding this article on firing an employee.

  • greenlady posted on 6/4/2009
    What advice would you have for an employee who was blind-sided, had no warnings, no formal meetings or write ups and was still fired for very shady and shaky reasons? Then, the employer went to notify subordinates to that employee and when recieving resistance and questioning from them, changed the story on why they were let go?
  • Ken Gaebler posted on 6/5/2009
    Ken Gaebler
    Greenlady, the reality is that you were probably hired at-will, which means the employer can fire you for good cause, bad cause or no cause at all. Unless you had an employment agreement or were fired for illegal reasons, your best bet is to move on. Being fired is never fun but it usually means that there wasn't a good fit or that circumstances simply didn't allow the relationship to continue. The best thing you can do is spend some time on introspection and objectively assess whether there's something you need to work on. Channel your energy into finding your next gig and don't waste your time on being angry. Don't let the turkeys get you down. You'll do just fine and ultimately you'll be glad you are no longer working for that particular employer. Good luck!

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