Employee Performance: Terminate or Rehabilitate?

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Today we look at the one or two bottom performing employees you might have on your team or in your company. It could be job performance related or it could be negativity or behavior problems. Can they be ‘fixed’ or should you let them go and move forward with hiring a replacement?

An HR Manager shared with me they as she looked back on all the people they had put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) most ended up being terminated either in the short term or the long term. Does that mean we should just go ahead and pull the plug on poor performers? Can any be salvaged?

Another manager who was frustrated with an employee who had gone completely sour lamented that he had no doubt the person could be fixed but the amount of time, energy and therapy (his words) was too much for the company to invest.

In the Front Line Leadership course I ask supervisors and team leaders to reflect on whether they have ever seen an employee who struggled to perform under one boss subsequently improve after being transferred to another department. Virtually everyone in the class had to acknowledge that they have indeed seen this happen.

Prison of Performance

While the reasons an employee’s performance can slip below expectations are many, the leader has to be careful not to trap the employee in a performance prison from which he or she cannot escape. Once the boss labels the employee as a poor performer in the boss’ mind the leader may not be able to see the employee do anything right. Therefore the boss continues to see only the negatives and provides only negative feedback.

Escaping the Prison of Performance

Using a progressive disciplinary process can send a signal to the employee that there will be consequences for unacceptable behavior. The leader however needs to quickly acknowledge any improvement in behavior and provide positive feedback. In this way, the employee will see that the leader is willing to acknowledge strengths, giving the employee hope for success.

Putting Ideas into Action

  • Confront employees about performance and behavior that you find unacceptable. Provide consequences.
  • When you see them doing something right, acknowledge it and build on positives.
  • Reflect on the fact that you as the leader may be causing the continuation of the very behavior you are trying to fix. Change yourself first and then see the employee change.
  • If the employee does not improve after being given every opportunity do them a favor and terminate them so they can find a position that will be a better fit.

Leaders should allow employees an opportunity to rehabilitate, and only after a number of chances, terminate employment and start over with a new employee.