Does a problem employee make you lose your grip – or wish you could? Are they sucking the life out of your company? Draining time, energy, and resources?

Dealing with a problem employee

When this happens does it make you just want to scream? If this is what you feel, you are not alone. When I joined a company of 8,000 employees as their first national director of human resources, this type of response to “problem” employees was common among managers at many levels of the organization across the country. If fact, it was not uncommon for the managers of our facilities to get yelling mad and fire the problem employee in the hall in front of other employees!

While that public yelling and firing probably felt really good in the gut for that manager for a while, the feeling of satisfaction was soon replaced by new problems. Those employees who were embarrassed in front of their friends and co-workers, even if they were dead wrong in their actions, became fighting mad and attacked back: federal EEOC charges of discrimination, unfair treatment, civil legal actions of wrongful discharge, wage and hour claims … every form of disruption and attack they could think of, they waged against the manager and company. And guess what? You thought that the employee was a problem? How about having to face charges or a law suit? Settlements and trials are time-consuming, expensive, and nervous making even if you win – which is not guaranteed considering how you may have treated/mistreated the person and how a judge and jury might perceive things.

The proper way to address difficult employees

So, here is a tidbit: Don’t get so mad that you call out the employee in front of everyone else. You will never be right if you do this. Instead, do the mature thing: after settling down, bring the employee into an office by themselves. If needed, include a witness. Close the door. Now, have an objective, non-emotional talk with the employee about their performance. Treat the employee fairly and with respect. As for what you say, first communicate what is the company’s expectation of the employee, the company’s standard of performance. Then, as objectively as possible, communicate the employee’s performance in relation to that standard.

It is very important to clarify and get an agreement with the employee that there is a gap in their performance. Then you can talk about strategies to improve the performance. If conducted correctly in a supportive manner, you can expect communication and performance to turn around dramatically – if you have a willing and capable employee.

If it is proven clearly that you need to fire them, make sure that you leave a clear signed/witnessed paper trail of warning ahead of firing them. In most States, all you need is one good reason to fire someone, but make sure that the employee’s performance failures and your warnings and communication with them about it is well documented, in accordance to your policies.

And, no matter what: don’t yell at them and fire them in the halls!

Management training

Oh, and yes, I was able to turn my company around and train the managers in effective supervisory methods and mature professional standards of performance evaluation and effective disciplinary actions including termination of employees. The results were that the attacks of EEOC charges, wrongful discharge civil actions, etc. plummeted to all time lows across the company’s national landscape and stayed there. Treating people respectfully, even on their way out the door, simply is the solution and the right thing to do.

For a little visceral satisfaction, however, learn to sing these words to the tune of “The Gambler” song:

“You need to know when to hire them, know when to fire them, know when to walk away, know when to run…”