Termination Is Hard, But Avoidance Is Destructive
I'm not an expert on protocol; there are countless lawyers and human-resources experts for that. However, when it comes to fuzzy situations where employee performance is mediocre or questionable, my sense is that companies wait too long to act. The reality of separating from an employee too often is swept under the rug.
And that's bad. It ensures those at-risk employees' functions, teams and overall companies run at subpar levels. It breeds mediocrity and creates bad precedent. It forces others to compensate and poisons morale. It looks bad to outsiders and deflates enterprise value. Failing to terminate promptly is hard, but lingering is downright unhealthy. Situations can become like cancer.
But a company that fails to terminate an employee, when called for, is also doing that at-risk employee a great disservice. It sustains an unhealthy situation and hampers change and growth. It makes the inevitable all the more painful when the inevitable happens. It prevents that employee from being open to more compatible opportunities, where happiness and blossoming are more likely. Termination avoidance can even be disrespectful, because it equates to precious lost time.
So when is the right time to terminate, in such gray situations? Again, I'm not advising on legal grounds. It's imperative to follow company procedures, be compassionate and try to correct an at-risk employee. But my sense is that a manager's intuition is more often right than wrong. When intuition dictates, it's critical to listen closely, initiate serious evaluation, and be prepared to act quickly.
In case you were wondering, this column was inspired by several situations I've witnessed over the years. We've all seen or been involved in them, and they're unpleasant to the think about. Discussing them doesn't make you popular or jolly. But as tough as they are, it's far better to confront them head-on.