When Should You Fire an Employee?

How much time should you give an employee to improve his or her performance? There really aren’t any specific guidelines. One thing to take into consideration, however, is the employee’s length of service with your company. Loyalty does count. Give an employee who has served you for several years a few months to work out his or her performance deficits.

Remember, too, that when you fire a long-term employee, the negative effect on the morale of other employees will be far greater than, say, if you were to fire a recent hire. And when you work together with long-term employees in an effort to help them improve their job output, and ideally keep them gainfully employed, you create goodwill throughout the company.

On the other hand, if an employee shows poor work habits, has unsatisfactory skill levels, or displays attitude problems during, let’s say, the first 90 days of employment, don’t hesitate to fire him or her promptly.

Don’t Delay Firing

Although firing should definitely be a last-resort measure, many managers, especially newly minted ones, hesitate to terminate an employee until it is long overdue.

As demonstrated throughout my presentations on problem employees, you can resolve many performance shortcomings by carefully working with an employee. I’ll emphasize again that the vast majority of people want to work hard and succeed in their job.

If these “gentle” tactics don’t work, however, you must move on to a firm verbal warning that makes mandatory a work quality or attitude improvement and cites specific suggestions for effecting such an improvement. If that fails, issue a written warning. Some people just require the jolt of a firm warning to shift their work performance into high gear.

Of course, during the period when you are working with an employee in an attempt to improve his performance, you run the risk of having him decide to seek employment elsewhere. This risk increases if a written warning is handed down. If the employee quits or submits his resignation, that’s okay. It is a lot easier to lose weak performers through their own proactive decisions.

Of all confrontations with an employee, the response you get from firing someone is the most difficult to predict. One employee may thank you for giving him the opportunity to work with you, while another may attempt to engage an immediate supervisor in a fistfight. You need to prepare carefully before firing someone and be ready to become fully engaged in what may become a very demanding encounter.

How you handle a firing will have a tremendous impact on how the employee feels about himself, you, and your company. This will, in turn, affect your chance of being sued. In addition, a poorly handled firing will have a negative impact on morale throughout your entire organization.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Sometimes a hard and clear warning is the necessary wake-up call.
  • New managers especially tend to delay firing.
  • If written warnings aren’t working, it’s probably time to say good-bye.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.