How firing under-performing staff can be the kindest thing to do

If Alexander Armstrong gave 100 business owners 100 seconds to name words describing the kind of boss they are, the chances are, “cruel” would be a pointless answer.

But some of the 100 would be wrong. Why? Because many well-intentioned business owners continue to employ some members of staff who, because of their results and/or attitude, quite simply shouldn’t be there.

Here, HR expert and author of Fire Well, Sue Ingram, explains to ByteStart how a small business owner should deal with problem staff and how letting an employee go, can be the most considerate action an employer can take;

Helping poor performing employees

Many small business owners and managers believe it’s too hard, too difficult and legally dangerous to remove under-performing staff. In all too many firms, if a worker isn’t performing as they should, that employee is shuffled to the side; placed out of the way where they’ll cause the least harm.


And harmful; not just to the organisation, but to the individual, because sometimes we need to look elsewhere for success, for example;

  • Sir Isaac Newton was a dreadful farmer
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper
  • Ricky Gervais failed as a pop star

Apart from losing out on the opportunity to succeed elsewhere, someone who is failing at work can find their confidence and self-worth being eroded, perhaps resulting in a downward spiral that can be hard to escape from.

In the worst cases, mental health may be affected; at the very least the individual will be unhappy at work. Put simply, continuing to employ someone who is failing at their job is cruel.

And there are a lot of people in this situation. The results of 2013 research by Gallup (gathered from 230,000 workers in 142 countries) indicated that 24% of staff are actively disengaged from their work. Almost a quarter of the workforce!

There are three main reasons how this type of scenario can come about;

  1. Creeping mediocrity
  2. We rarely see ourselves as others do
  3. Fear of difficult conversations

These guides will help you to ensure, your employees are fully engaged with your business;

Poor performance can creep up on you

Poor performance at work can be like reaching the age when you start to TiVo Strictly: it just creeps up on you. The decline is slow. Everyone wants to do well, and everyone thinks they’re doing their best, so why would someone question their own performance if no-one says otherwise?

And the reason no-one says anything is because that would involve a difficult conversation; a scenario where the expectation is defensive and/or aggressive behaviour. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Managers need to stop being difficult-conversation averse. And a good beginning would be to stop labelling feedback conversations with an under-performing worker as difficult. These are helpful conversations. They’re about highlighting issues and working towards a resolution that’s best for everyone.

Your aim is for people to be happy and successful in their role

From the beginning, a manager must be clear about the desired outcome: the individual becoming both happy and successful in their work. If that can be achieved within the current organisation, great; but it may be that the individual needs to find a more suitable job role elsewhere.
Fire Well

With the objective clear, the route to take everyone to that point needs to be mapped out, and that means following the organisation’s formal process—all the way through to termination if that proves necessary.

It isn’t that difficult to get rid of poorly performing staff

Many managers believe that UK employment law is complex and difficult. Wrong. It is simple, straightforward and works very well.

You just need to follow the formal processes to the letter, which will include collating and recording evidence and all informal and formal conversations, and acting reasonably at all times.

The feedback and necessary improvements should be presented in a calm and factual way; it’s important to show respect for the individual and for any choices they may make.

By conducting fair, considered, thoughtful and generous conversations, where an under-performing individual is provided with the feedback necessary either to improve or to realise they are in the wrong job situation, it is possible – by in effect putting them out of their misery – to fire someone and for them to thank you for doing so.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Sue Ingram, author of ‘FIRE WELL – How to fire staff so they thank you’. Sue has spent over 27 years working in HR and related fields and is now a Director of Converse Well.

More help on managing and motivating staff

For more tips and ideas on how to manage and motivate your team, read these guides;

And for guidance on other employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;

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