How to Fire Someone Without Feeling Guilty

Do you have an underperformer whose quality of work is consistently a disappointment? You might discover that your problem worker is simply a poor fit and not a bad employee. Here’s a true story with a positive ending that recently happened to a proactive employer whom we’ll call Vicky:

Vicky was frustrated with the performance of Tim, who had worked at her company for only a few months. While Tim’s work in some areas was stellar, he repeatedly fell short of the mark whenever attention to detail was required—something that Vicky’s customers were beginning to notice and make comments about.

Whenever Vicky thought about firing Tim, however, she wondered if she was being too critical, expecting too much, or not giving specific enough direction. After a few more weeks of further training and dissatisfaction, Vicky had to acknowledge that her company brand was being hurt by Tim’s poor performance.

Scott Kuethen, our CEO, reminded Vicky that underperformers are usually unhappy because they know they’re not measuring up and don’t feel fulfilled. He suggested that Vicky look at letting Tim go, not as a negative act, but as a positive one–releasing him to pursue his true calling and find a job that was a better fit. With this new perspective, Vicky felt free to call Tim in to let him go.

To her surprise, the conversation unfolded more positively than she’d anticipated. Because Tim was young and inexperienced, working for her company was his first exposure to doing a job that required this much attention to detail. He now realized that portions of this type of work were not in his area of strength. Tim’s poor performance was partly due to his complete lack of enjoyment in some of the tasks to which he was assigned. He was actually relieved to be permitted to move on to find something that would better suit his skills, personality, and preferences.

In wrapping up the conversation, Vicky affirmed Tim’s work ethic and attitude in the areas where he had excelled. She agreed to give him a good reference in those areas, and encouraged him in the career direction he really wanted to pursue. In the end, her willingness to confront the issue and let Tim go turned out to have a positive result for both of them.

If you’re dissatisfied with an employee’s performance and wondering how to fire someone without feeling guilty, consider Vicky’s revelation. Your underperforming employee probably doesn’t feel fulfilled or engaged. He or she may even be staying on out of loyalty or fear of the next step. You can help by affirming his or her areas of success, compassionately confronting the problem, and releasing your worker to find a job that is a better match.

For more true stories about how employers just like you have handled underperforming employees with specific issues, click here. If you’re not quite ready to let someone go, read these five quick tips from Cognology’s interview with several experts on how to address your underperformance problem:

  1. Have a face-to-face conversation with your problem worker.
  2. Show tough love. Give completely honest feedback with compassion and sensitivity.
  3. Avoid assumptions. Delve deeply to get to the real reasons for poor performance/disengagement.
  4. Prepare to give more immediate and frequent feedback to correct the employee’s course.
  5. Reexamine your hiring and on-boarding process, especially regarding how you assess cultural fit (behaviors, attitudes, or personality).

Do you need help actively marketing your job opportunities, connecting with job seekers who are a good match, and negotiating offers? Click here or call (714) 993-1900 to start your next search.

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