How Much Leeway Should You Give Your Employees?

Fire employeeNobody gets food poisoning four times in a month. Either that, or they need to have a SERIOUS conversation with the Chinese Food delivery guy.

But, let’s just assume for a minute that your employee who has called in the last four Fridays saying his tummy hurt isn’t being 100 percent truthful. And, it’s started to affect the other people on your team. Hiring employees is about as fun of a process as cleaning out a septic tank, and the money you spend training a new employee can further hinder productivity.

However, a bad employee will hurt you even worse. Sure, people make mistakes, get sick, take time to learn, and occasionally just need a day off. But, how much leeway should you give them? And when do you say enough is enough and kindly give them 20 minutes to clean out their desk? Here are some things to consider.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

The fact that you’re even thinking about firing an employee is often a good enough sign you should do it. But in some cases, it may be a knee-jerk reaction and you need to consider if this employee’s errors are really cause for termination. So ask yourself …

    • Should this employee have known better? You may know the ins and outs of your industry so you might assume it’s common knowledge. But maybe you have a mechanic who’s not as well-versed on carburetors as you, or a bartender who doesn’t know every craft cocktail in the book.


    • Did they mess up deliberately? Accidents happen. The same accident five times in a month usually don’t. But, it’s not impossible. If you have a cook who’s messed up orders a lot, or a clerk who rings up merchandise incorrectly, find out why it’s happening.


    • Do they have confidence in what they’re doing? Especially in a business that uses updated technology, even after training, employees may not feel 100 percent confident with what they’re doing. Investigate if lack of confidence is the underlying issue and see if you can find a way to instill it.


    • Have they been warned? Being late once happens. Being late a few times might require a little talking to - including telling the person their job is in jeopardy. But, if you haven’t made the urgency of fixing their mistakes explicit to them, they may not know its importance.


    • Are they still motivated and engaged? Yes, there are jobs where performance is the only factor in employment. But if you have a highly motivated, engaged employee who for whatever reason isn’t performing, see if further training can be of help.

The Types of People You Should Always Fire

Those questions are not the be-all, end-all of decision making, however. There may be employees who meet all those criteria who are still counterproductive to your company. published a list of the seven behaviors that, despite performance, should still warrant termination.  They include:

    • Being a troublemaker


    • Overpromising and under-delivering


    • Acting out with customers


    • Can’t or won’t do the job


    • Flaking


    • Acting entitled


    • Ignoring the rules of conduct

Again, though, remember everyone has bad days. And if an employee fails to deliver on a goal or gets a little thin-skinned once, tell them it’s not acceptable and move on. If you notice a pattern, then it might be time to go.

How to Ease Your Way into Firing

We’ve talked a lot here about giving employees a chance to improve behavior. But, how long should that chance be? It’s a very subjective thing and there’s no set timeline or procedure. This general progression should allow you to keep those who may turn themselves around while eliminating the bad seeds.

    • Identify the negative behavior immediately. Letting it go will just validate the behavior and the employee might think it’s ok. Even if it’s a first offense, still let them know it’s an offense.


    • Identify individual behaviors. Don’t save them up for a performance review or large-scale counseling. Mentioning more than one issue at once will overwhelm the employee and lessen the effect of your discussion.


    • Tell them their job is in jeopardy. Mentioning a corrective action once might lead an employee to think it was a small oversight. Telling him or her a repeat might cost them their job will hit home. Just remember to avoid threats.


    • Offer some ways to fix the problem. Telling somebody that they messed up can lead them to becoming defensive. Constructive criticism might do the same thing, but at least they know exactly how to fix it.


    • Termination. If you’ve warned them, informed them that their job is in danger, offered ways to fix it, and you’ve still gotten nowhere in fixing the issue, start planning how to fire them.

Obviously, there are certain situations that warrant immediate firing like sexual harassment and theft. And you never want to hold onto a bad employee too long. But the line is blurry between a salvageable case and a lost cause. Take some time to determine if firing is your best course of action. And in the meantime, avoid wherever your suspect employee is eating.

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