Why not firing an underperforming member of staff is cruel

Having to sack a member of staff is unpleasant for everyone involved, but should individuals performing poorly remain in their jobs?

Sue Ingram, Director of Converse Well, which provides managers with skills and an effective method of approach and author of Fire Well – How to fire staff, warns that keeping inadequate staff on would have a negative impact on the company.​

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“Many believe it to be too hard, too difficult and legally dangerous to do anything else. ‘It is impossible to fire someone with over two years’ service’ is a common held misconception which is costing the economy, organisations, and the reputation of the managers and individuals dear.”

Ingram has spent over 27 years working in HR and related fields​. She believes that letting an individual stay unchallenged where it is obvious they are failing is the cruellest non-action a manager can take. Slowly, over time the individual’s confidence and self-worth will erode leading them in a downward spiral that they may find very difficult to climb out off. 

Research (conducted by Gallup and published October 2013 gathered from 230,000 workers in 142 countries) that indicates an amazing 24 per cent of staff are actively disengaged from their work and would actually support activity detrimental to the organisation.

She suggests that ignoring poor performance is created because of three factors:  

  1. People do not see themselves as others see them.  We want to come across in a certain way and, as we so rarely receive feedback about how we actually show up, we continue to believe that we are behaving as we want to do.  The same is true of poor performing staff.  They want to do well and they think they are.  But if no-one takes the time to tell them otherwise they are left in the dark and perplexed as to why they are not progressing in their career.  
  2. A slow decline. Remember the parable of the frog in the boiling water? This explains why people stay in jobs for which they are clearly unsuited and why managers never get around to providing the necessary feedback.  The situation deteriorates so slowly that for both parties it just becomes the way it is.  Often it is not until an outside person comes in and then calls the organisation on its way of behaving that it becomes apparent.
  3. Difficult Conversations. These types of feedback conversations with under-performing staff are traditionally known as Difficult Conversations.  So naturally both managers and staff will look for reasons to avoid having the conversation.  And then, if the situation becomes untenable and a conversation is forced upon them, both will go in with the expectation of a difficult conversation leading to defensive / aggressive behaviour from one or both.    

Ingham whose workshop entitled, ‘How to Fire Staff so They Thank You’ has been delivered to over a 1000 managers in the both the private and public sectors, stressed that it was possible.

She advises the manager to be clear on the required outcome from the conversation; that the individual needs to become both happy and successful in their work.  If that is within their existing job great, but if this means that they leave to find a more suitable job role for them, then so be it. 

Next the manager needs to learn how to present the feedback and necessary improvements in a calm and factual way, showing great respect for the individual and for any choices they may make. 

Then the manager needs to follow the formal process all the way through to termination if that proves necessary.  UK employment law is actually simple, straightforward and does its job very well.  Remember to follow your formal processes to the letter, collate and record evidence and all informal and formal conversations, and act reasonably at all times.  It is that simple.

“Be kind to your poor performing staff. Conduct fair, considered, thoughtful and generous conversations where they are provided with the required feedback either to improve or to realise they are in the wrong job role for them. Put them out of their misery. Be generous, fire them and they are likely to thank you for doing so,” she says. 


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