how to fire someone for mediocre work when they’re trying hard

A reader writes:

I was recenty promoted to oversee a team of 3. One woman on the team has worked in her job for 2 years, but she has never been able to fully perform her job responsibilities. Unfortunately, my company hired this woman for a job she’s simply not qualified for. The employee readily admits that is true, and is very receptive to training and coaching. She’s improved significantly in the 3 months I’ve worked with her, but I am certain it will take years to get her the kind of training and experience she really needs.

However, the rest of my team and I are overwhelmed with a lot of work. I’m working 11-12 hour days in part to cover the work she can’t do and to spend time teaching her things. Plus, she drags the rest of the team down asking for help. For what she earns, I know I could easily hire someone a lot more productive and knowledgable.

I can let her go via a “no fault termination” with severance, but I feel horrible because none of this is her fault and I know she will be devastated. Plus, she’s been allowed to be in this role for over 2 years and it never bothered anyone before, so how can I justify it being a problem now? I honestly just don’t know what the right thing to do is — if I keep her, we’ll suffer; if I fire her, I’ll feel like I’ve discarded a very loyal and hardworking employee.

Any advice on options or how to move forward?

Well, first, kudos to you for taking the problem on, rather than not addressing it, as other managers in your organization have apparently done. When managers neglect to take on performance issues, they’re abdicating one of their most fundamental responsibilities, and that’s just as true when the employee is trying really hard as when they’re not. It’s often easier to deal with emotionally when someone isn’t even trying, of course — it’s much harder when the person is genuinely working hard — but ultimately your job is to address the problem either way.

That said, there are some ways that you might adjust your approach when someone is trying hard (versus when they’re just slacking off). None of them involve keeping a mediocre performer on, but there are ways to handle it especially kindly.

And when you’re dealing with performance problems, kindness always starts with honesty. Many managers mistakenly believe that it’s kinder not to give honest feedback or address the problems straightforwardly — but this is wrongheaded. It’s far, far kinder to let someone know how you see their work than to keep them in the dark, and it’s far kinder to let someone see the writing on the wall than to blindside them by firing them out of the blue when you’ve run out of options or patience.

So honesty is where you want to start. Sit down and have a candid conversation with her. Acknowledge that she works hard and is receptive to feedback, but that ultimately you need someone in the role who can do X, Y, and Z without significant training and coaching. Talk about what you do see as her strengths, but explain that the job requires different ones.

As for justifying why this is a problem now when it wasn’t before, you don’t need to get into why previous managers didn’t address this with her; you can keep your focus on what you need in the role. If she asks why no one has raised this with you before, it’s okay to say, “I can’t speak to what Bob or Jane needed when you were working with them, but what I need from this role is ___.” (And remember — even though this is a hard message, you want to be kind. Make sure you use a tone that conveys empathy, not one that contains frustration or discomfort.)

From there, you can offer her two options: She can pursue a short-term improvement plan and try to meet the bar you’re describing, with the understanding that you would need to let her go if she hasn’t met that bar at the end of, say, 4-6 weeks, or you can jointly form a transition plan that will give her time to search for another job while giving you time to look for a replacement.

Assuming that you think the joint agreement for a transition is the better option, be honest about that, because you don’t want to encourage her to take a path that you think is doomed for failure. You could say something like, “I’m happy to give you a chance to pursue the improvement plan option if you want to, but I would hate for it to turn your experience here negative. I would much rather work with you on a transition that meets your needs and ours.” You can point out that this route would give her more time to look for a new job than she might otherwise have, and that she’d be able to say that she’s still employed at your company while she’s looking. It’s also okay to explain that this helps you too because it prevents a vacancy in the role.

Now, you don’t need to offer both these options. If you’re unwilling to give her another 4-6 weeks for the improvement plan option — and you might be, if you know that the result is a foregone conclusion — you can skip that piece of it. But there are some advantages to offering it — she’ll feel that she’s been given a real chance, and the rest of your staff (if they hear from her about what happened) is likely to feel that she was treated with the same respect and fairness that they themselves would want. And this matters — because when you’re firing someone, the rest of your staff is your most important audience. They’ll watch how you treat people in that context and draw conclusions about how well they’re likely to be treated themselves.

(By the way, it’s important to note that you don’t want to offer the planned transition option to someone who you don’t trust to handle it well. You wouldn’t offer this option to an employee who you thought capable of, say, sabotaging the company’s database during her remaining time, or whose work was so bad that she’d do real damage if left in her role for another 4-6 weeks, or who’d badmouth you or the company to coworkers while sticking around. And if you saw signs of any of this sort of thing during the transition, you’d need to curtail the transition earlier than originally planned.)

Overall, though, the key here is to simply be honest with your employee about what’s going on, and to make the conversation as collaborative as possible. The feel of the meeting should be that while the current situation isn’t working out, you want to jointly figure out a way forward that will be best for both the employee and your organization.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Juni*

    If you have the option/opportunity, see if any other departments in your organization have a need that she could fulfill. Talk with your fellow managers and see if anyone has any openings, even if they aren’t advertising them. It could be that two departments could use someone part-time, or some other arrangement. If you genuinely like her and see her as loyal and a hard worker with a good attitude, look into ways she can stay with your organization.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My caution here, though, would be that you can’t take this option as a way to make the problem go away — you can’t move her into another department if she’s not going to excel there either. If she really is a great fit for another team, that can be a good option — but if she’s not going to be high performer there either (not just an ok performer, but a high performer), then you really just need to deal with it head-on.

      1. Juni*

        Right. Totally agree. But if she’s a darn good administrative assistant trying to fill the shoes of a marketing sales manager, there’s no harm in identifying a place for her that actually fits her skillset.

        1. PEBCAK*

          But I don’t think the OP needs to do that in some way that is SEPARATE from a transition plan. I think that they can agree on a transition plan, and the OP can mention that the EE is welcome to apply for internal jobs if she sees a good fit, or the two of them can talk together about internal jobs or something. The difference, in my mind, is that it should be the EE’s responsibility to find a new job, internal or external, not the manager’s job to find her a new internal gig.

          1. K*

            I don’t think it’s the manager’s responsibility, but if the person truly would be great in another position, it would benefit the company for the manager to make an effort in that direction and likely gain the employee’s loyalty for life, which is not nothing. It’s also a signal to other employees about how the company treats people.

            1. PEBCAK*

              But the manager here is not neutral. I mean, yes, ideally there’d be some magic opening that was perfect, but the more likely scenario is that management tries to stick a square peg in a round hole for the reasons you describe, to alleviate guilt, etc., and none of those are good reasons for an internal transfer. I’ve just seen this shuffling too many times to think that it works in practice with any frequency.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I agree. It’s generally done for the wrong reasons. (Right reason = person would truly be spectacular in the new role. Wrong reason = to alleviate guilt or avoid a firing.)

          2. KellyK*

            I like this approach. If you think they could shine somewhere else in the company, it gives them the opportunity, but it doesn’t use that as a way to get out of addressing the problem.

        2. Julie K*

          Another consideration is her salary. If she moves to another department (even if she’s a great fit there), will her compensation stay the same (or at least not decrease)? I suppose that’s something that the employee could take into account when deciding whether to take another position within the company, if it was offered.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            You’re right. If the pay is less, the employee will feel like she’s been demoted. It might not sit well with her.

              1. Jamie*

                If there was a position where she could excel but it was technically a demotion and less money, I don’t see where there’s harm in offering it. She may prefer this to unemployment and maybe ending up with something at a lower salary anyway.

                Demotions are never fun, but neither is getting let go so there are definitely cases where it could be properly offered.

                1. Chinook*

                  Plus, if you have a company that rewards time with the company (i.e. you are vested into a pension plan after 2 years of service), they are not starting at zero but with the time they already have there. This in itself has value.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The key is that the employee understand why this is happening; you need to be clear with her, not use it as an opportunity to avoid the tough conversation. And if you notice attitude problems as a result, you need to nip that in the bud.

        3. Steve*

          I got the impression that she’s drawing much more than an entry level salary. It wouldn’t be an easy sell to to transfer a … say … 75K/year person into a role that is only budgeted for 30K/year. Likewise she probably wouldn’t want to accept a large pay cut.

      2. Kelly O*

        Have to chime in on this one. We had someone at our office who kept getting shuffled around because she was just not really getting anything done wherever she was (she’s the reason I got moved to the position I currently hold) and now she’s out at another location and still not performing. She’s been moved around there too.

        And I’m not saying it’s okay to go around firing people willy-nilly, but sometimes it’s less kind to keep moving someone and making them think everything is okay, or giving them this hope that you’re going to KEEP on moving them around to whatever… some people are just not suited to some things.

        1. Jamie*

          Oh, I agree with this. That’s why Alison’s comment about making sure its a position where she could shine is so important.

          Using myself, if I were hired into a sales department I have a very inadequate skill set and could easily be the employee in this scenario…no matter how hard I try though, just never going to meet the bar.

          But you’d know I was pretty darn good at analyzing sales data and creating metrics, if not meeting them. I also know a thing or two about technology…so if a department in the company needed those skill sets a transfer might be a win-win.

          But there would need to be a great fit.

    2. Jamie*

      That’s what I was coming to post. In some organizations there may not be a good for for her, but it would be nice to check and see if s transfer to a position where she could excel is an option. Even if it comes with a paycut, some people would prefer that to unemployment.

    3. AJ-in-Memphis*

      That’s a good idea as well! Or even transitioning into a diff. position within your department like admin or assistant…

        1. Lily in NYC*

          It really depends. There are ranges in admins just like every other field. I’m an admin but am considered the same level as an assistant vice president where I work.

        2. Kelly O*


          On behalf of all admins and assistants, that is not necessarily a demotion.

          /climbs off soapbox

          1. Lily*

            Admin and assistent deserve a lot of respect, because they have to work so closely with others, but if someone had a position with title X and then was offered a transfer to a position “assistent to X”, then that would be a demotion, wouldn’t it? At least, that is what I thought was being discussed.

    4. Kerry*

      I also came in to suggest something like this – if she’s an otherwise good employee who just doesn’t have the skills for this role, it would be worth trying to find a role she *could* excel in before looking at exit strategies from the company.

  2. AJ-in-Memphis*

    Tough one. Inheriting a low performing employee is not easy. As usual Alison hit the nail on the head though, honest is the best policy. It’s the mark of a good manager and employees have no choice but to respect it.

  3. Runon*

    It sounds a bit like this is a big organization. Is there another spot in the company that would be a better fit for her skills? It sounds like she is a good employee just not good at this specific job, maybe she’d be a better fit elsewhere and that would be worth looking at as well.

    The other thing that might be a lot more unconventional would be to look at what she can do and if there would be a benefit to the group to shifting around tasks. (This may be not at all possible with this job.) Say you’re a training team. She isn’t great at putting together plans or coaching or presenting. But she can schedule rooms and get the space set up and enter in all the attendance information. If there are tasks she could do that would take a bunch of work off the other staff and give her a part of the work she could realistically do that may be an option. You’d still need to examine if that is a long term solution or a shorter term one as you get her up to speed on the other parts. But it may be something that could work.

    *Both of these options only work in lovely places where this is possible and in the real world in your place of business they may not. But it seems like in an ideal world these might be alternatives.

    1. Zahra*

      Also, if it is knowledge that can be learned and your company does have some funds dedicated to continuous learning for their staff, it might be a good idea to suggest she does get the knowledge she needs through some classes while she is doing tasks to free up your team (or she works in another department where she’d excel while learning).

      That might give you both an opportunity to give her more time to learn X, Y and Z and become a fully productive member of the team. If she is a good worker in general and loyal to the company, it might be worth it to mention that you’d welcome her back with open arms IF there is a position available *and* she gets the training she needs in order to do the job.

      Another thing to consider: is it a position that could be done or complemented by an intern while she acquires the skills she needs?

      All this is assuming you’d really rather keep her in the company rather than let her go.

      1. cncx*

        I think an intern is a great idea. I had a job where a poor performer who happened to be friends with her manager got an intern. Seriously. So I do think on some level if could be a stalling tactic to buy time for this employee to either train up or move out. The intern turned out to be super capable so it was a win for everyone- the manager covered her friend’s butt for six more months, the manager looked good, the team had someone who actually knew what was going on working with them, the intern got to do more than making copies and coffee, and the poor performer got time on payroll.

        The poor performer at my job wound up getting fired by her BFF Manager’s boss (surprise surprise) but I think if someone can’t handle the politics of firing someone, getting a qualified intern to do their job for a few months can take stress off the team (if they aren’ t already resentful of the fact that this person just can’t be sacked already) and give the poor performer time for a good exit strategy. I personally think people should be fired if they don’t meet the job requirements, but I think if a company has the wiggle room financially and a manager a hard time with hard decisions, an intern can be the best solution to a bad situation.

  4. Joey*

    I’m a little confused by the title of the post. Is it really mediocre which to me means minimally acceptable. Or is it more like what’s described which is poor performance?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I suppose it’s really poor performance. I’d handle it the same way with either — I want high performers, not mediocre ones, so the answer would be the same regardless — but it does sound like the situation here is outright poor performance.

      1. Joey*

        I think those are two different conversations. In the ops case I would really push the plan to transition her out since it sounds like the op has been working with her for a while already and the gap to meet expectations is still pretty large. I just think prolonging the inevitable is going to feel like going through the motions.

  5. COT*

    Any help you can offer to her in finding a new position (if you do believe she’s a good worker, just in the wrong role) would help as well. If you have a bit of time to invest in helping her explore what she would be better at, you’ll gain an endless amount of respect from her and your team. Show her a few job openings that she’d be better at, or write a letter/summary of her talents to help her know what highlight when she can’t see the good qualities in herself.

    Being let go is a huge confidence destroyer. Anything you can do to help her remember her strengths will help her find new employment more quickly and with more goodwill towards you.

  6. Lore*

    What about when you’re a direct supervisor but don’t have firing authority? I ask because this is the situation a friend is in: he was promoted to a position that made him the manager of someone performing very poorly. He’s tried giving this person less responsibility, different responsibility, clear instructions in writing, micro-managing, stepping back–essentially trying eight different ways to figure out if it’s a communication problem or a performance problem, and finally concluding it’s a performance problem. But he isn’t allowed to fire the person; instead, my friend’s being told to “be a better manager.” Any advice?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      He needs to go to his own boss and make the case for letting this person go. When told to be a better manager, he should ask specifically what the person has in mind, and also what types of situations WOULD rise to the level of firing someone. If he’s never allowed to fire, he doesn’t have the authority to do his job (and at that point would need to decide if that’s a job he wants).

      1. Lily*

        I just did that and it worked well! I realize now that I was trying to be too objective in the past when I was explaining to my boss what was going on with poor/difficult performers. I had also considered each incident on its own rather than putting it into a historical context which can show a much more serious pattern. This time I stated my case and she was fine with the limits I defined.

        I still feel very bad after I have “trashed” the person to my boss, but I feel even more relieved that change is coming!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not “trashing” someone; that makes something personal that isn’t. It’s explaining why someone isn’t a good fit for the job that you’re company needs filled. (I say this because making things personal like that makes it sound like it’s some personal beef between the two of you, when in fact it’s you doing your job.)

          1. Lily*

            My emotions haven’t caught up with my position. I was very proud of myself after the meeting, but felt somewhat sick the next morning and had to remind myself why I was doing this. I think it is important to acknowledge that our gut may not like it when we do the right thing as managers.

      2. Lore*

        I think the issue (one issue) with the situation is that the company is looking to reduce head count, so the odds are that if this person is fired, a replacement will not be hired…so if the choice is between poor performance and no performance, the higher-ups are choosing poor performance. My friend has made the case for firing regularly for the past year–but asking specifically what would rise to the level of firing might be a good way to defuse the current tension and move around it. (And I think, generally, this is a job my friend should be looking to get out of–this is far from the first time he’s been sort of backed against a wall by his own managers–but he’s been with the company a long time, was fairly recently promoted to this supervisory position, and he wants to succeed enough at it to get a good reference and to be considered for other supervisory positions when looking. So it’s a tough situation.)

      3. Just a Reader*

        This sucks. I used to be a manager without firing authority…everyone I recommended for firing was kept years to long and eventually–you guessed it–fired. It was so much more painful than it needed to be for everyone involved.

    2. Lindsay*

      One of the best things at my new job compared to my old job is the attitude towards write-ups and firings.

      At my old job, write-ups were viewed almost as if you were saying the employee was an awful employee in every way and were personally insulting them. Firing didn’t happen. I would write up employees, counsel them, retrain them, everything, and then my manager would not sign off on terminating them. I too was essentially told that it was my fault that someone wasn’t performing because I had not found the right way to train or motivate them. As a result, we had very low performing employees who hung onto their jobs for years (even decades in some cases – there were people who were viewed as jokes in their positions when I was hired, that are still there now and will likely remain until they retire). Much of my time was spent trying to figure out tasks I could have employees do where they could cause the least damage, and dealing with poor attitudes from poor performers and high performers who resented the low performers alike. It was exhausting.

      At my new job, write ups are viewed pretty much as informational – “hey, you did something wrong. This write up is so we have a formal record of having a conversation about the event and the consequences if it repeats itself in the future.” Most of my employees actually thank me after a write-up.

      And firing happens after a reasonable amount of retraining and documentation. Sometimes people are not the right fit for a job either based on their abilities or their attitudes, and it’s better for the company (and likely the employee, too) if they are moved out and a new hire in.

      Since I have a team where everyone is competent and has a reasonably good attitude, I can spend my time doing my job and I am a lot less stressed out every day.

      If your friend’s boss won’t allow him to terminate people with established performance problems that have not improved with retraining and write-ups, he needs to consider whether he might be better off someplace else.

  7. NUM*

    What are your options if and when you decide to let this employee go? I am assuming that she is handling some of your team’s work – if not as much as you need her to. And, given another three months, she will be handling more.

    How long will it take to replace her and to train her replacement? Do you already have another candidate in mind? Is your upper management willing to go along with hiring a new person or transferring someone from elsewhere in the organization?

    See where I am going. How will you deal with the 14-16 hour days during the 3-6 months of bringing a new person on board? Is it worth it?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author


      It is ALWAYS worth it to replace a low performer with a high performer. It is really, really, REALLY bad for managers to think, “Oh, it’ll take so much work to replace this person and be so stressful during the vacancy that I’ll just keep her.”

      The impact of having high performers on your team vs low ones is dramatic. It is worth the hassle and extra work to get there.

      1. PEBCAK*

        Just adding the caveat that, in some industries, you might put up with it during busy season…like tax accounting in March/April. Interestingly, this is not so much because of the desire to make that employee handle some minimum workload, but because managers don’t have time to being a hiring process, and any currently-employed candidates won’t have time to be looking.

        The key thing is that this is SO WELL KNOWN by employees in that industry that they think “oh, Alison will take care of that in May” instead of “my peer is doing a crap job and nobody cares.”

      2. NUM*

        A dogmatic reply to a not-so-simple question. Whoa yourself.

        You miss my point. I am not saying that OP should accept low performance from her team member. But there are real issues:

        #1 – What options are there to replace this person on the team? Is the company willing to hire from outside? Or, are there people within the company who could transfer to the team and pickup the work immediately (note: a part-time transfer does not fix the OP’s problem of getting the work done)? What if there are no good options (eg, the company is not hiring)?
        #2 – Time frame. Say it takes 1-2 months to fire the current employee and hire a replacement and 6+/- months to train a replacement. That is 6-9 months of transition time. There is a real question about whether it is worth it. If the current employee continues to improve at her current rate, would OP be satisfied with her performance at the end of that time?

        Other things to consider:
        – Does OP want this to be her first big decision as leader of the team – firing a “loyal and hardworking employee”?
        – Has OP brought this up with her upper management. Will she get their support?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Managers tend to overestimate how much time it will take a new employee to become trained and start delivering at a high level compared to the person currently in the role. Strong performers will get up to speed far faster than people often realize. Besides, even if this weren’t true, it’s far better to have a short period of downtime followed by an all-out stellar performance, as opposed to months/years of mediocrity (or worse).

          If you want to be a good manager, you are going to have to fire people. There will always be hiring mistakes; hiring isn’t a perfect science. Firing comes with the territory; it’s part of building a high-performing team (just as much as attracting and retaining great employees is).

          You cannot shy away from doing it because of the work involved, or start from the premise that it’s something to be avoided at all costs.

          1. Zahra*

            What about letting her stay until a replacement is found (or she finds other work) on the premise that her doing some of the tasks is better than the team doing it all in the meantime? Of course, this assumes that her staying is not a bigger burden than the team taking on her tasks.

            1. Joey*

              I don’t usually do this because you can’t commit to a specific date when you hire someone. So you risk the possibility of dragging it out. Besides it might be a little awkward for everyone when candidates have to come interview.

          2. NUM*

            My premise is that the employee is honest, openly communicates about her own abilities, is very receptive to training and coaching, has improved significantly in just 3 months, and is loyal and hardworking. It may be an open question whether she can succeed in her present role. But, it is not nothing either. You could go through a lot of new hires before you find all that again.

            One analogy: That exact same description could apply to Alex Smith of the 49ers. Though there are some who still think he doesn’t have the skills to be a world-class QB, he did end up taking the team to within a breath of the Super Bowl last year and might well have won it this year had he not been benched for the flavor of the month. (Sports analogies are OK, right?)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s actually not that hard to find those attributes, and you can get all those plus the ability to perform in the role at a high level. Again, people tend to really underestimate how hard it will be to fill the role with someone new, how long it will take them to start contributing, and how much of a difference having the right person in the role will make.

              Ultimately, a manager’s obligation is to get the best results possible, not to take every possible measure to try to retain a low-performing employee. Some people are not right for the job, which sounds like it’s the case here.

            2. EngineerGirl*

              NUM, you are leaving out several facts in your analysis:
              * The employee knew that she wasn’t performing but didn’t make any changes until confronted by the new manager. Technically, this. Employee had over two years to improve but didn’t.
              * The employee requires extra help from others to get the work done. She is making the team less efficient than it would be without her.
              * High performers get frustrated at having to *repeatedly* help a low performer (key word is repeatedly). You risk losing a high performer by trying to save the low performer.
              * Sometimes it is better to be short staffed. The removed employees salary can be used for overtime for others. Overtime where the work actually gets done Vs pushed around.

              In short, the emloyee has never performed and others are paying the price. You are so busy trying to save the one that you are sacrificing several others. That isn’t right or fair to those who are performing.

            3. EngineerGirl*

              And just one more aside for NUM… You also fail to realize the harm that you are forcing on your high performers by keeping a low performer. I’ve been the high performer compensating for the low performer. Here is how I was explicity harmed:
              * Goals are deadlines are missed. You mentioned “almost” making the SuperBowl. Almost. Maybe with a good quarterback the team would have actually made the superbowl. And just making the Superbowl is a big deal. In my case, we missed a delivery schedule that meant a lowered award fee which meant lower raises – for everyone.
              * Precious time is gone, gone, gone. If I am forced to work OT to compensate for the low performer that is time I can’t take to be with my friends, my family, or to relax. That impacts my quality of life.
              * Other opportunities are missed. If I’m spending time doing low performers work, that is time I can’t spend working on high profile stuff. It is the high profile stuff that will get me other growth opportunities in the company and also get me a higher ranking in my performance review. One year I got a meets expetations instead of high contributor simply because I was spending so much time cleaning up after the low performers.

              Do you think that is fair? Yes, the other person is trying. But several more are being activly harmed because the employee can’t carry the load.

              1. NUM*

                All good points…

                … Except to the extent you blame the employee herself for harming other team members or for being responsible for her own training. It seems to me that responsibility rests with those who hired her for this role or with her previous team leaders who failed to deal with her skill deficiency.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes, to the extent that there’s blame at all, that’s certainly a factor. But sometimes there’s no blame. Hiring isn’t an exact science, and sometimes managers make hires that anyone would make in their shoes — and it still turns out not to be the right fit.

                2. EngineerGirl*

                  It isn’t a matter of blame, but of impact. Both sides share responsibility for not rectifing the situation sooner. The employee is an adult and self-aware that there was a problem. That means that she could have sought a solution to the issue or looked for a job where she could succeed. It isn’t fully the responsibility of the employer.

                  Unfortunately, both sides have paid for this hiring mistake – the company in wasted salary and inefficiencies. The employee in a damaged reputation and eventually a termination. The good side of this is that the economy is better than it was. If the employee seeks employment now while she is still employed she will be better positioned.

              2. Jamie*

                Yes, the other person is trying. But several more are being activly harmed because the employee can’t carry the load.

                I agree with Engineer Girl in that the harm done to high performers when you keep sub-par performers around really can’t be overstated. It can breed resentment in people who would otherwise be happy with their jobs.

                If I have to pick up the slack because we’re down a team member and the boss is hiring – I’m okay with that. It’s temporary, it’s being addressed, and it’s part of the deal sometimes. If I have to pick up the slack because we feel like we’re down a team member because someone can’t or won’t pull their weight – and I’m doing part of their job and they are collecting a full paycheck…I don’t feel good about that at all. Filling in? Fine. Training? Sure. Carrying someone long term? Now the boss is harming her relationship with key performers.

                Problem for the boss is that key performers will have more options than sub-par performers…so if they aren’t careful they can end up with a team of people who are there strictly because they have no alternative. Not a good scenario for the boss or the business.

                If you think of it in concrete terms it makes sense. I can’t/won’t lift heavy stuff. I just do not have the physical ability to sling 100 lbs bags of whatever all day long. But if I’m on a team of 5 and that is what we do – no matter how hard I try, how badly I want to help, and how much I work at it if I still can’t move as many bags the other five are working harder to make up for me.

                It’s no different just because it’s knowledge work and not actual lifting.

        2. Joey*

          If you’re insinuating there are circumstances where its better to keep a poor performer or delay her exit I’ve never seen a good one. And delaying your decision based on how long it takes to find a replacement is really a short sighted way to manage.

            1. Anonymous*

              Time is cost. You are arguing this based on time. The amount of time it would take to train someone new, the amount of time it would take to get this employee up to speed (which is an estimate based on a very optimistic read). The time here is the cost.

      3. Kelly O*

        Cannot agree more with this.

        I have seen too many places that don’t seem to really care which cogs sit in the cubicles and put their focus on the offices. So the “just getting by” crowd grows and grows. Even those who might come in with ideas about improving performance and making things better eventually wind up just getting by. It’s an issue of culture – what you’re willing to accept and how you want your employees to value their jobs, even if you’re one of those seemingly rare places that is okay with people feeling as though they “just have a job.”

        A weak performer, especially one putting others in the position of working long hours to make up for them, can drag a whole group down. It may not be quick, but it tends to happen.

      4. GonnaBAWriterNGetOut*

        Whoa is right! I have just finished sitting next to one of the most low performers I have ever had the displeasure of working with and I can say from personal experience how extremely stressful that situation was for both myself and my other teammate.

        This person was a wretched performer for years, was instrumental in pushing numerous employees out of the company (at least 10 people have left the department, stating they would never work with her again) and basically got away with doing very little actual work while hanging out, surfing the internet, talking on the phone and texting with her friends and family while the two of us carried the load for her, with no respect from our manager for having to put up with the increased workload and the disheartening effect this situation had on us. Before she was terminated, there were just too many days I was ready to walk out the door. Now that she is gone, I realize what a war zone it felt like to have to deal with that situation every day.

        I could go on for days about how awful this situation truly was but really, why bore everyone? Suffice to say, Alison is completely right – managers, please fire your slackers – they do you more harm than good and they drive your high performers out the door. How is that a good scenario for any manager?

    2. Jen in RO*

      I have a mediocre person in my team and I would not mind putting in some extra hours if they meant that we’d get someone who’d be an asset in the future. Having to always think ‘what’s the easiest task this person can’t mess up’ gets very tiring.

      1. -X-*

        Just to be specific – in the OP’s case it isn’t a “mediocre person.” It’s someone who is mediocre at the job she’s in. She’s trying and improving, so the morale issue is probably not as terrible as it would be with someone who was low-performing and had a bad attitude or wasn’t even aware of their shortcomings.

        I’m not saying this person should be kept in this job, but the phrase “mediocre person” is rather insulting. It’s about the job, not the person – especially when the person is making a good-faith effort to keep up, ask for help, improve etc.

        1. Schnauz*

          My mom’s workplace went through something like this, only for closer to 4 years. Even though the employee had a GREAT attitude and was so pleasant, it still depressed morale in the office. The other employees had to stop and help all the time, the employee in question would get frustrated about all the mistakes they were making when they thought they knew how to do something, losing money and having to explain why this person made the same mistake multiple times, etc. Even though the employee was a lovely person, not being able to execute your job properly can still get everyone down.

    3. fposte*

      If it’s taking you six months of fourteen hour days to get a new employee up to speed, something went wrong in that hiring.

  8. Jamie*

    I do want to commend the OP for seeing the situation for what it is and acknowledging that the employee is trying and has positive attributes, it’s the fit and skill set that’s at issue.

    Too often, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to make it easier on themselves emotionally, people demonize the underperformer and lump them in with slackers and those who don’t care.

    Your clarity on this will assure that the employee will be dealt with fairly and compassionately.

  9. Heidi*

    What a great post. I was in a very similar situation as a manager several years ago. The employee had been with the company for five years before I took over as the manager. I took the time to do some retraining and outlined an improvement plan for the employee. In the end, they did not have the aptitude to work at the level that was needed and the employee was the first to be let go when staff reductions occurred.

  10. Lily in NYC*

    Great advice, as usual. We had a similar issue where I work with the president’s assistant. She worked for him when he was a VP but he kept getting promoted and she just couldn’t hack it upstairs in the executive suite – it is a pressure cooker and the other admins are high-level executive assistants with years of experience. They didn’t want to outright fire her so they gave her 3 months to find a job. I think she tried to call their bluff because she didn’t look for another position. But they still had her leave when her three months were up.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Oh, it was in writing. Her reasoning was interesting, to say the least. She assumed that they were hoping she would leave, but that if she didn’t, the deadline would pass and everyone would just let her be. Her theory? That they were worried she’d sue for discrimination. She overheard the president say a word she thought was racist (it’s not remotely racist but is a word that means “not generous” and sounds a lot like the n-word – I’m sure you know what I mean. I’m scared to write it here because many people think it has racist connotations). So in her mind, she thought that the boss knew she overheard him and was terrified of her wrath. Obviously, it did not work out as she had expected.

        1. Anon*

          I know the word that you speak (or not) of, and that wouldn’t have stopped me from getting rid of her. In fact, that too would have been in the back of my mind as I planned it – “In addition to poor work product, she has a limited vocabularly.”

  11. SCW*

    As a new manager myself, this situation really resonates. I have a staff member who was only recently moved to be managed by my position, but the previous manager did not take on the task of dealing with certain major issues because the manager was retiring. So my first days in this new position, as acting manager, were spent trying to figure out what was going on with this employee and what to do! Several weeks after becoming the official manager, and I’m still struggling with this staff member and her attitude grows ever worse, and now the rest of the team thinks I’m an ogre because the previous manager never said anything to this staff member. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t work with the others I supervise, so they can’t see her problems or realize that there are actual problems.

    My direct reports understand the situation, but one of my direct reports has direct reports who have started to look at me like I’m the worst sort of micro-manager.

      1. SCW*

        We’ve been doing the formal thing from the beginning–the HR director and I met with her and a translator twice to explain the expectations that should have been implemented in October, but weren’t, and to go over expectations. I’ve been following up to make sure she is keeping to the new expectations, but because of the language barrier she feels like she can interpret things how she wants–even though we had everything translated for her.

        I’ve pressed for being able to escalate from coaching to a formal disciplinary action, but because she’d never been formally told the new expectations, and because the HR director just retired, they want to give her more time to see if she can keep to the new expectations. She isn’t, but it is mostly minor stuff and a really bad attitude.

        Because I work for the public sector, everything is over a longer term than with private or even non-profit industries. Patience is the public sector manager’s best friend.

        1. Joey*

          Ooh, sounds like attitude is the bigger problem. Do this- start thinking of it in terms of unacceptable behavior instead of a bad attitude. Youll want to pinpoint the exact behavior(s) that are unacceptable. Also being in public sector its likely that they take a very conservative approach so its best to think of the documentation you will use as evidence since it will have to hold up to the scrutiny of HR and probably your legal team. I’d also start documenting the conversations (if you aren’t already) you have with her regarding expectations. Typically a follow up email summarizing your conversation works well. I know, I know, it’s a lot of work, but you probably know that just about everything in the public sector has a lot of bureaucratic red tape. And don’t be afraid to push back. HR and legal are just advisors so if you and your boss feel differently just make sure your boss runs it up her chain of command first. Disagreement with HR and legal typically means they’ll probably try and convince someone higher up the chain.

        2. Chinook*

          I worked for one boss who had 2 firings in 2 months in a company of 12. The first was for attempting to sell drugs to a corowrker on company time and the other just didn’thave the right skills, just like the OP’s circumstances only he had made the inital hire. In both cases he kept quiet initally on why someone was let go but soon realized that everyone else wondered if he was downsizing and it hurt morale.

          How he handled it gained my respect (I knew what was going on as I was his office manager and filled out the forms for him). He called a staff meeting and recognized that there was an issue. He said one employee had been hired for illegal activitiy and the other had been given time and training to help his skills but both recognized that his skills jsut weren’t up for the job. He then said that, as long as your skills are up to the task and you don’t break any laws, you should be safe. He then asked for anyone with individual concerns about their abilities to see him one-on-one in his office. About half the datff took him up on the offer and everyone seemed to be satisifed after that.

    1. Joey*

      I bet your staff really doesn’t see you as an ogre. That’s probably just a lack of confidence in yourself. They’re either relieved and hopeful or skeptical that you’ll handle it appropriately. And the only reason they’d be skeptical has nothing to do with you and more to do with baggage from past experiences. Either way they’ll be watching you closely and how you handle it will set the tone going forward.

    2. SarahJ*

      I’m in a similar position as I was very recently promoted and one of my reports just isn’t catching on to our new software. Of course, she’s worked here for 25 years and I get the impression that upper management has basically shrugged and decided she’ll be here until she’s retired. I agree with an above poster that it’s exhausting to try to distribute tasks between a super sharp high performer and the lady who still doesn’t understand the system we’ve been in for almost 2 years.

      1. Joey*

        Its exhausting but worth it. you know 10% of employees =90% of the problems, right. Yes, sometimes for whatever reason low performers are given special considerations. But if that’s merely your impression its still worth talking to your boss first about the issues and your plan to address them. Sometimes it just takes a manager willing to take on the challenge to move forward. And yes, even good managers find themselves being told to give special consideration to low performers. If that ends up being the case you have to just accept it and make the best out of the situation.

        1. DA*

          I’m blown away by the amount of special considerations that are given to low performers. It just makes moral awful and people get resentful. With a manager not dealing with these issues, its a surefire way to lose your top performers.

          1. Joey*

            Yep, sooner or later as a manager you’ll find youself being told to carry out a decision that makes absolutely no sense whether its giving special consideration or something else. You really have to think hard and pick your battles.

      2. glennis*

        I came into a job where I managed two women who’d been there for over twenty years. They were unable and unwilling to update their computer skills – even the basics. They were three years from retirement, and my manager, who was equally computer illiterate, simply felt it was all right to let them continue to work in an analog world.

        It was excruciating.

  12. Amy McDonald*

    Excellent assessment of the worst situation to be in. I’ve experienced several difficult terminations, but situations like this always bother me more than the really messy ones. I agree with your suggested approach, and have used it with success in the past. Great post!

  13. Bryce*

    I’m a big fan of the “counseling out” approach, no matter what the cause of poor performance. All I can say is that there are times when I wish I had been offered this option.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: ALWAYS follow your company’s mandated procedures when it comes to addressing performance issues, and ALWAYS check with your company’s HR experts before taking action. It’s not only a good idea, but you are legally responsible for following them, and there can be legal consequences if you don’t.

    That conversation would sound like this:

    “As you know, it’s been a bit of a struggle. I’m willing to work with you to come up with a plan to see if we can make this work, but my gut says that this job isn’t really the right fit for you. Specifically, you have real knowledge and skill in X, Y, and Z, but not so much in U, V, and W, which are important in this job.” I think you’d do better and be happier in another position, such as Q.”

    “I’m willing to give you a chance to improve, but I need to tell you that if you don’t make the following improvements R, S, and T in the next 30/60/90 days, your job is in jeopardy.”

    “That said, would you like me to go ahead with a performance improvement plan, or would you rather I work with you to try to help you find a better-suited position inside or outside the company?”

    By doing this, you put employees on notice that their jobs are in jeopardy, which often is enough to get your employees to improve. You also put employees on notice that they should start their job search sooner rather than later. And sometimes, you can even avoid the ickiness of the whole process with a planned transition out.

    I have a question: Would you still offer severance/have the employee be eligible for unemployment if you did the whole counseling out thing?

    1. Joey*

      I always decide severance based on longevity, budget, and whether the person has access to proprietary information. And in most states I know of she’ll qualify for unemployment regardless of how you spin it.

  14. Jennifer*

    Overall, I think this is a good approach. The only thing I can think of to say is that if the employee really has no shot at keeping the job, even if she improves in 4-6 weeks (because the standard is way too high for her to meet even with help, or whatever), then don’t claim that if she doesn’t make the goal, she will be fired. It sounds like she will work her butt off for 4-6 weeks and then still be deemed unacceptable–which is going on already. Don’t give her hope if it doesn’t actually exist and just go straight on to the “try to find another job by the end of 3 months” portion of this, if that’s the case.

    1. Limbo is Lame*

      I agree, with the “don’t give hope when there is none,” approach as well.

      If my boss had already decided that I wasn’t going to make it, and s/he gave me an impossible bar to meet in a month or two, and led me to believe I could save my hide with hard work when I couldn’t, I would be VERY upset and feeling used and discarded, and never would I say kind word about the company after. It is much kinder to allow someone to seek out other opportunities if there is no hope.

      In fact I know of a company that does that intentionally, they demoralize and burn you out so they do not have to fire you. At least five people have been on the chopping block for the past 3 years and longer. Company had leverage because these folks didn’t want to be known as quitters, somewhere along the line someone decided the company could get more out of them if their jobs were on the line. These people never got bonuses, praise, training opportunities, anything, but weren’t ever actually fired because as long as they were around they could be scapegoated, if they walked no unemployment. What mystifies me is how the company managed to convince them there was hope after years of indifference.

      Pretty sick all around really.

      1. Jessa*

        It’s really not true, and I had to fight unemployment in NY about 30 years ago (way before psychological things were more well known and documentable,) that I was pushed out of the company and had to quit because of the actions of my fellow employees. They had hired back someone who ended up below me on the totem pole, I’d go home with my stuff organised and done, and things would go missing, be moved, disappear and I’d get yelled at and punished for it. I quit. I argued that they were psychologially damaging and I won, and I got paid. Took a couple of weeks and a note from my doctor.

        Nowadays if you have a decent doctor and you DOCUMENT, document, document, leaving a job because they’re psychologically abusive and treating you like total garbage CAN get you unemployment. You just have to fight for it.

        1. Limbo is Lame*

          I do not argue against your points in the least. These folks just have been brainwashed so badly they wouldn’t dream of quitting, and they have also been told flat out (by others not me) that quitting = no unemployment (try convincing them otherwise). They are also of an older generation, and I have been told by one or two that quitting and disloyalty are not the lessons they want to teach their children and/or grandchildren. And also why I have been told I cannot understand whenever I suggest leaving this intolerable situations. Only thing I can think is that they have a thicker skin than I, because after six months of continuing threats, I’d be gone.

  15. N.*

    “They’ll watch how you treat people in that context and draw conclusions about how well they’re likely to be treated themselves.”

    I know this wasn’t the main point, just an aside, this was the main reason I gave one day’s notice (was expecting 10 minutes) as opposed to two weeks, last job. Second week on the job I went into a twenty minute meeting, and came out in time to see the higher ups unceremoniously dumping out the desk (tipped it over onto the ground then shoveled (also assisted with their foot) the contents into a box) of the guy they had fired 10 minutes before. Most of his personal things went missing (picked over) or were broken before they were shipped to him- three months later.

    Knowing I was probably going to be compelled to leave, my desk was cleaned two days before I resigned. Every other job got the courtesy of a month or more. I don’t care why he was fired at that point, not when the compnay allowed high ranking employees to trash his stuff.

    1. Anonymous Accountant*

      Changing my wording. It’s never easy to fire someone but is necessary. Really, it’s the best thing for the employee and organization when you know it’s just not working out and is dragging down the team.

      The employees needs to find a role where she will excel and be able to perform well.

  16. LG*

    Great advice! I just did a transition plan with a 20 year employee (the job evolved and she simply couldn’t keep up with the changes) and while it was difficult to have the conversation initially, it allowed her to find something much better suited for herself. As we neared the end of her plan I was able to help her identify some types of jobs her skill set would be a good fit for and comfortably was able to provide a reference for her for one of those jobs (was honest about her shortcomings but could also speak to why her skill set would work in the position she was applying for). All in all it worked out great, she has a new job that she is happier in and I have a new team member that has turned the department around. It took time to see the upswing in results, but it was well worth it. Good luck!

  17. Original Poster*

    Thank you everyone for the feedback and suggestions. I especially like the script that Bryce suggested.

    I have not yet read all comments yet, but I wanted to share a few things help clarify:

    1 – Even though this employee is hardworking and loyal to the company and to me, she is not respected in the broader organization at large, especially among hiring managers. Her lack of competence often came off as rudeness.

    2 – I have full decision-making authority to fire her.

    3 – The pain of a transition is going to be tough, but I do have a team that is already carrying extra weight. I fully expect there will be pain with the transition. I am doing my best to prepare for as smooth a transition as possible (by hiring someone with a lot of experience) but there will always be things we cannot plan for.

    Thanks and keep ’em coming!

    1. Jamie*

      FWIW – and I’m speaking from experience – it’s easier to carry someone else’s job when they aren’t there.

      To have to carry someone who is under performing you have to coordinate with them to figure out what they are doing – often undo what’s been done incorrectly, being very diplomatic when redoing someone’s work…explaining why it was needed…trying to keep the tone out of your voice as you do so.

      If they aren’t there you just do it and it’s way faster – because you don’t have all those conversations and landmines to worry about.

      1. Anonymous*

        Someone I used to work with described it thusly (say this in your head with a NY Italian-American accent and shrugging your shoulders to get the full effect):

        “Eh, having him in is like having two other people out!”

  18. Cassie*

    We had a similar situation with an underperformer at work – she was a hard worker but simply wasn’t a good fit in that position. One of the managers who was her close friend and had pushed for her to be hired was getting increasingly frustrated and the two ended up estranged.

    Anyway, after discussions and attempts to help the staffer improve, she was finally told that she should look for another job (she was essentially allowed to take as long as she needed). She did find another position several months later. (And in case anyone was wondering – she was initially in a different position in our dept where she was doing okay but not great).

    Back to the OP’s situation – I think it would be great to help the employee find another job, if there was an opening that suited the employee and if the employee truly was a good fit. That can be part of helping the employee transition out, but it definitely needs to be secondary. Don’t just try to ship the person elsewhere (especially if the other dept will feel pressured into hiring that person).

  19. TechManager*

    Many of the comments here seem to give all their sympathy to the poor performer, and none to the people around her who are picking up the slack day after day. I’ve seen cases where the best performers are creating 10x the work output of the poor performers. I’ve even seen cases where the poor performer is a productivity drain – such that after he/she leaves, the whole team functions better even if the empty slot is not filled. Job satisfaction also goes up among those who remain.

    So managing poor performance effectively is not just necessary for cold accounting-type reasons, it is important for fuzzy human ones too. Treat the poor performer with dignity and honesty, but don’t let him/her drag down the other 10 people on the team for years.

  20. Chini*

    What if you are the mediocre performer? I’m in a position where I basically lucked into a job where most of my coworkers have advanced degrees in finance, accounting, and law. I have a BA in a social science. So far I’ve done fair enough based on my research and writing skills — some of the most brilliant people in my office are atrocious writers and rely on me to craft their convoluted thoughts into straightforward memos. I’ve put in extra time trying to make up for my lack of substantive of knowledge.

    My boss has commended my contributions but expressed concerns about my long-term suitability for the position. I want to keep this job, and I’d hate to think that the powers that be are discussing how to usher me out behind my back. Any advice on how to do things better? On managing managers’ expectations, relating to coworkers who probably view me as inferior, cramming several years’ worth of advanced studies into my brain in just a few weeks…..

    1. Jamie*

      Have you had a frank conversation with your boss about their concerns for your long-term suitability? I think that’s the first place to start – make sure you have a clear understanding of what the concerns are and if there is anything you can do to mitigate those concerns.

      If not – if it’s truly a matter of the boss eventually wanting everyone to have an advanced degree, or something, at least you know and you and your boss can have an honest conversation about other possible roles in the company and you can proactively plan your career – in that company or looking elsewhere.

      It sounds like your boss is able to give you feedback both good and bad, and that’s huge. A lot of people with bad managers just hear how everything is fine until they are being terminated.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      You definitely need to raise this with your boss. But by your own admission you’re not qualified. You said you “lucked out”, only have a BA degree among several advanced technical degrees, and state that you lack substantive of knowledge. This is like the average Joe dating the Italian super-model. We know it won’t last.

      You say you want to keep the job, and it is understandable. But the company hired you and is paying you for a job you aren’t performing. If you want to stay at the company you need to transition to a job you can perform or up your game. You’ve already stated that you don’t believe you can raise your skills quickly enough so I would start looking for another job.

  21. Original Poster*

    Well, she made a colossal error again. Plus her usual little errors. If I had any doubts, I don’t anymore.

    I agree with the comments about how one bad performer drags everyone else down. Since she makes 40-60% more than anyone else on my team, that makes it even worse that everyone else has to carry her weight.

    I will be taking action within the next 3-4 weeks (based on some projects we have going). I will follow up as this unfolds.

    Thank you to everyone who commented, you’ve really given me clarity on this issue.

    1. FreeThinkerTX*

      Please let us know how it goes when you do eventually have The Conversation with the underperformer. I take it you won’t be offering the 3-month training plan?

  22. Anais*

    I ~was~ this person at my last job and it sucked. I was trying and trying and drowning. The transition plans weren’t realistic because it was going to take ~years~ for me to get where they needed me to be in months.

    I had to face facts and so I spoke to management about leaving. I quit and am now having a hard time finding a new position and explaining why I left my last job. Plus, my confidence has taken a hit. My company and coworkers were very kind about the transition.

    No one wins in these situations.

  23. Depressed*

    A year and half ago, I joined a consulting company that specializes in technology that I knew almost nothing about. They trained me and after a few months, I got assigned to projects, working under technical leads. Our projects were always done correctly and within budget, yielding congratulatory client messages. Last year I got my first solo project, working for a client on site. It was wonderful and I got stellar reviews from the client, a bonus and a raise based on that performance. After 3 months, the contract ended and the following month, I was re-assigned to a different project, which was run by the director. This project was highly complex, large, discrete and challenging. I expressed my concerns and she empathized saying that she too felt intimidated when she first took over the project but she got it eventually.

    At the end of my first month on it, I logged more billable hours than she would have because it was taking me longer than her to figure stuff out. She was intimately familiar with the project details and I was learning, supporting and developing all at the same time. I got warned for those excess hours and decided to cut back my billable hours by reaching out to her if it took me too long to figure something and not continuing work that she had not approved. It would take her less than 5 minutes to get back to me with the clue (usually it was one liner emails) that I needed to finish off whatever I was supposed to do. After a week of doing this, during a meeting between me, her and the CEO, I was fired for not being self-sufficient and aggressive enough. She claimed that my reliance on her was a drain to her time, was jeopardizing the successful completion of the project and I was not driving hard enough. I tried to explain to her that I was climbing that learning curve, that I had made progress, I was being cautious about over billing and just wanted to make sure that as the project lead, she remained the driver. I spoke about how successful all my other projects had been but they said that they doubted those reviews now because my performance on this project was wanting. I asked why I had not been spoken to about this before. The CEO said that their organization is not the type of organization that coaches or mentors and that they did not have other projects where I could be coached or overseen.

    I would like the opinion of the readers on how you feel this could have been handled better or was this the best way to deal with me. I admit the work was challenging but I was delivering ! I had no idea she was so frustrated with me and I could have explained why I had relied on her. That meeting completely caught me off guard.

  24. similarexperience*

    I searched Google for this scenario. I’m neither the manager/boss or the employee whose performance is just not cutting it anymore. I’m one of the other co-workers/colleagues working with the employee and their constant lack of retention and being able to work on their own without always asking the same questions (for over 3 years!) has basically become toxic to me and other team members. It’s like we’re becoming frustrated and stress (affecting our health and workplace happiness) simply because the company has not yet fired her. I thought all once an employee is not just having difficulty with their own performance, but directly affecting the others’, then shouldn’t it be the last time for this employee? Why risk driving away your other top performers for impractical reasons? Understaffed is not a reason to keep someone if their work is as good as having no one and seeking a replacement.

  25. Herb H*

    It may be good karma to believe management must make an effort to try to find something else for the poor-performing employee to do, but it could also be bad for business.
    Certainly, if the employee were “exceptional” at something else, that may or may not have come out in time, but the bottom line is that business has precious little appetite for the employee’s sake.
    Imagine management telling this to an employee that does not pan out: We are sorry things are not working out, and we would like to offer you our assistance by supplying sights to consider for seeking further employment opportunities…a small price to pay for showing your brand’s take on empathy…

  26. Rachel*

    Okay…but what if this situation happened with an employee who…wasn’t trying? I work in a very large hospital system and I have an older employee who’s been coasting through her retirement years…She is receiving her paychecks but doesn’t seem too interested in doing the work required by the job. There are many offenses that have accumulated over the years from what I’ve been told, including falling asleep in the middle of a disciplinary meeting. However, this employee just celebrated her 20th work anniversary!!

    I am new to my position as program manager- my responsibilities include making sure our very busy program’s daily needs are met. Prior to that, I was a member of the team with her and was 100% aware of these issues and can vouch that they are termination worthy. One main problem with our structure (and the reason why many managers and coworkers have left before me) is that the woman she ultimately reports to is in a different department/different building. She is essentially “on loan” to us and her salary is being paid by someone else, which has been attractive to our department’s upper administration. Unfortunately, her department’s manager isn’t receptive at all to our feedback about the problems this employee has caused in our department. In fact, the last person in my position was chided for being too “nuclear” in her approach to get rid of this employee. It’s further complicated by the fact she’s gotten away with it for all these years, and that our HR department is nervous she’ll claim age discrimination. A fellow program manager and I have attempted several work arounds to hold this employee more accountable, but she is becoming the black hole of our daily managerial tasks. We seem to finally have a momentum shift as more and more higher level staff members are getting fed up, but the question is how to move on it. Two options stick out to me…possibly give her over to her direct manager completely and be down a staff member, or work on assuming all managerial responsibilities for her…which then would enable us to terminate her with greater ease. Any suggestions?

  27. Victoria*

    I have been through the unfortunate experience of being fired for a similar situation, I commend the author for advising the manager to be open to speaking with the employee, especially if they know they are doing the best they can.
    My manager fired me, with no notice that there was even an issue, no adequate reasoning, and hired someone else (which they clearly had mind) without advertising the role at all. Very unethical management.

    Not only was the experience handled very badly with my manager not speaking to me about any issues, but she clearly blindsided me with no idea there was any issue and also alarming other employees that their role was not that secure, as everyone was so shocked that someone they thought was doing a good job, was so expendable.
    The manager could have handled this with far more professionalism and respect for me as a fellow manager, as their direct report, but at the very least, speaking directly to me to identify there were issues. Whether those issues were apparent or not, the manager has a responsibility as a professional and a person to at least identify issues prior to a humiliating situation which can be so damaging to the employee and not great for staff morale.
    A little empathy and professionalism and looking to others how you would like to be treated, goes a long way! and doesn’t take too much effort. Not only does it leave a sour taste in the prior employees mouth, it also does for clients they may have contact with.
    I know business is business, but other staff do like to see that a manager has handled a situation better than just screwing an employee over for their own benefit and that they are not so expendable. Basicically mutual respect and professionalism goes a long way!

  28. Patricia*

    Here’s the story – I’m struggling from day 1 in my job, got to a level where I perform OK (not great, but certainly not bad either). One person who was in my department from the day I started came to be manager of my department. After X years (number larger than 5), she calls me to a meeting where she tells me I was never fit for that job and she will try to make a transfer to another department. On the other hand, we have a boss that bullies everyone he works with (some people literally quit because of him) and no one want’s to work with him, but my boss is making sure he stays where he is because she needs him. Not to mention my boss keeps some knowledge strictly for herself (and never pass it on), so she can’t lose her job.

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