A reader writes:
I have an employee who has been doing her job OK but has a bad attitude and is dragging everyone down. I know that you can’t fire someone just because they “have a bad attitude” so what is the best way to let her go? I am going to keep someone who was just hired recently to take over her position.
Have you talked to the employee about this? Or is this the first she’s going to hear of you being unhappy with her?
In general, if a manager has concerns about an employee that the employee doesn’t know about, the problem lies at least as much with the manager.
My hope is that you’ve already talked with her about this — presumably being more specific than just “bad attitude.” A bad attitude is a legitimate reason for letting someone go, but when you’re talking to the employee about it, you need to be more descriptive about exactly what she’s doing and how it’s problematic. For instance, “When you shoot down people’s new ideas the way you did in our meeting today, it makes people less likely to make suggestions.” Or, “When people ask you for help, you seem irritated with them, which is causing people to go around you for help.”
And then you’d ideally explain what the bar is that the employee needs to meet: “Part of what we need in this role is someone with a can-do attitude and a willingness to explore new ideas.”
And if the problem is severe enough that it could conceivably lead you to replace the person without significant improvement, you should be transparent about that too: “I want to be clear that this is important enough that without significant improvement in the next few weeks, we would need to move you out of this role.”
If you haven’t had that conversation yet, have it now.
Once you have that conversation, if there’s going to be improvement, you should expect to see it quickly (days/weeks, not months). If the problems continue, then your next conversation is a much more natural evolution of what you’ve already discussed: “We talked two weeks ago about the fact that if your behavior with your colleagues didn’t change, we would need to let you go,” etc.
Often managers skip the first part of this process because it’s a hard conversation to have. But you really have to — it’s part of the job. Other times, managers skip it because they don’t think the person can or will change — but you still need to, because even if you’re right, going through this process has a ton of crucial benefits:
- the person isn’t blindsided, which means it’s kinder and more fair
- the person isn’t blindsided, which means they’re less likely to assume the “real” reason is something nefarious (i.e., illegal) and decide to sue
- you won’t end up struggling to figure out how to have the termination conversation, like you are now; it’ll be a natural outgrowth of your earlier meeting
- other staff members won’t start to worry that they too could be fired out of the blue one day; people will know they’ll be warned ahead of time if their job is in jeopardy
Here are some additional posts that may help: