which employee should be let go?

A reader writes:

I supervise a staff of 5 people as part of a team that was just created within the organization since the beginning of the year. Two of them are constantly bickering between themselves and each runs to me with complaints about the other. I have tried coaching and mediating with the two of them. But this has been going on for six months now. I do not have the time to do a weekly “intervention” with these two and it is draining on the whole team.

I have decided that one of them has to go (not fired; just to another team within the organization). The dilemma is…which one? One of them is disorganized, has made some mistakes and cannot seem to stay on task. The other one performs efficiently but has a track record of not getting along with people, gossiping and just generally keeping things stirred up. I have addressed the specific issues with each of them independently to no avail. Any suggestions?

Yes. Expect them each to meet appropriate standards and fire them if they don’t. With their current level of performance, I don’t see why you’d want either of them staying on your team, or why you’d inflict them on someone else in your organization.

You’re not holding them accountable, and you need to.

Meet with each one individually and explain that you have serious concerns about her performance. With the one who’s disorganized, makes mistakes, and has trouble staying on track, address each of those issues. With the one who causes problems among the staff, address that. And with each of them, tell them the bickering is going to stop, effective right now, and that you’re not willing to deal with it anymore. They are expected to deal with it between themselves like adults, without it affecting their work or taking up your time, period. These are fundamental requirements of the job. If they don’t or can’t meet those requirements, they can’t stay on staff. It’s not negotiable.

And then stick to it.

Do you know how many competent people are on the job market right now, who wouldn’t cause you these kinds of issues? These two aren’t entitled to hold onto their jobs at all costs. Plus, the opportunity cost of having the wrong people on your staff is enormous. Think about if you had stars in those positions — the impact can be dramatic.

As a manager, getting results is your fundamental job, and since having the right people makes a huge impact on your ability to do that, you should be putting significant energy into getting and keeping the right people on board and moving out the ones who don’t meet a high bar.

Be clear about your expectations, warn them that if they don’t meet them you will let them go, and then back up your words with action.

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. *Abby**

    I completely agree. I work in an organisation where people get 'shuffled' when they really should be reprimanded and/or fired. It is a constant frustration to other employees which know what the individual(s) are like and get 'dumped' in a team with them. It does no good for morale let alone the running of the business.

  2. Charles*

    "Do you know how many competent people are on the job market right now, who wouldn't cause you these kinds of issues?"


    I was on two job interviews recently were I was asked the question about how I get along with "difficult" employees. The questions were asked in such a way that I was led to believe that both organizations had difficulties with unprofessional behaviour from some staff. I so wanted to ask, but didn't: why do you keep such people on board?

  3. The HR Store*

    Agreed. Why do you want to put your colleague through the same issues you are facing now? Beats me.

    Fix it.

  4. Just Another HR Lady*

    Ooh, the workplace "shuffle"…fun…that's how poor performers keep jobs for a lifetime!

  5. Rebecca*

    Just Another HR Lady: I have occasionally considered becoming a complete, utter b*tch at work as a career strategy. Nobody likes those people, okay, but those people also NEVER get fired.

  6. Anonymous*

    I strongly agree with AAM's advice. Spot on. If they're not helping you, then get rid of them.

    I get a kick out of the "workplace shuffle". This is especially true for government jobs, where they're too afraid to hire anyone because of lawsuits.

    Years ago, I was a state employee at a university, and we ended up getting someone who was, shall we say, "relocated" to our group. It wasn't fun and she was lousy to work with.

    She had gotten drunk at a party and said a new choice words about some people and the university president. If that happened anywhere else, she would've been out on the street.

  7. Erica*

    I love posts like these (also often seen in etiquette columns) where someone writes in with a problem that reveals a heck of a lot more about them then what they are complaining about.

  8. Kathy*

    I think universities are the second biggest offenders of this after government bureaucracies.

    And I double Charles' "Amen!" It's very frustrating for those of us struggling right now to constantly read these stories and hear them from our friends about their workplaces. Thanks, AAM, and everyone else, for setting them straight!

  9. Anonymous*

    "I fire them! I consider it part of the benefits package for other employees not to have to work with asses."

    Just think of the huge boost in productivity to companies and the economy if every manager followed your example!

    Lois Gory

  10. Charles*

    "I think universities are the second biggest offenders of this after government bureaucracies."

    Kathy – that is so funny; because one of those two interviews that I was referring to just happened to be a college.

    The interview was a panel/group interview (several of the college's employees interviewing me) The one who asked me how I handled "difficult" staff was the assistant to the Dean (who was not there). Since I was interviewing for a software trainer position I answered as if the scenario was in the software training classroom.

    She didn't seem satisfied with my answer so she further clarified her question saying she wanted to know how I would handle someone outside of the class "who just hated me"?

    Perhaps, I didn't get the job because I asked why someone who exhibited "hateful" behaviour was attending or working in an academic setting.

    It wasn't until after I left the interview that I realized that she may have been referring to her boss's behaviour.

  11. Susan*

    I agree that employees who are unprofessional, irresponsible, or terrible performers should be shown the exit if they have not cleared up their behavior or performance. Who runs the place? It sounds more like the bad employees run the place.

    Unless these employees are really making the business some money that no other employee could replace, they should be shown the door out. They're probably making the other employees miserable. This manager has already used up time researching what to do about them when that time could have been used on something more productive for the business. This isn't high school where you're the teacher who has to figure out how to correct their behavior. Just get rid of them. I'm sure there is someone out there who would want their job.

  12. just an employee*

    Unless these employees are really making the business some money that no other employee could replace, they should be shown the door out. They’re probably making the other employees miserable.

    This is one of my main concerns at the office. There’s this one manager who is such a bitch and makes the lives of the employees miserable. But because she’s a good salesperson, the boss does not fire her. But in the process of keeping her, the company has lost several excellent employees. Sad.

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