HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Productive Termination: The Earlier, the Better

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Fall, 2000) the HR Group newsletter.

Termination can and should be productive for all concerned. The earlier it is done, the more productive it can be. Not to terminate an employee for justifiable reasons such as poor performance, lack of “fit” or plain position redundancy is misguided compassion at best. At worst, which is usually the norm, it is a flagrant abdication of management responsibility that may cause severe harm to both the organization and the employee concerned.

How often have you heard or used these excuses for not dealing with issues that clearly warrant termination:

  • We’re trying to be compassionate
  • We don’t wish to damage the employee’s career and reputation
  • We’re waiting for the next performance review
  • We don’t wish to upset all the other staff
  • It will reflect on our own hiring and judgement
  • It will be too disruptive and costly
  • The situation will improve with time

The list is endless and excuses are especially prevalent for higher level positions where, ironically, the greatest damage may be done to both the individual and the organization. We severely delude ourselves with these excuses. Ignoring poor performance, lack of “fit” or position redundancy is neither compassionate nor understanding and does nothing to help the individual concerned, other staff, the organization as a whole or the manager and/or board/council responsible.

The employee concerned is harmed because ignoring the problem wastes whatever talents they do have and delays the acquisition of required training, competencies and behaviors. They lack the required coaching and assistance and may never learn what is required for their own personal success. They also find themselves stuck in a job that they are not suited for and where their incompetence only generates disrespect. The longer the delay in dealing with the problem, the worse it becomes and the more likely that there will be an abrupt and adversarial severance that does nothing to help the employee understand or come to grips with the issues.

Ignoring the problem severely affects other staff. As subordinates they lack appropriate direction, coaching, performance management and recognition. They also have to constantly “cover” for the boss or share in the disrespect for that particular department or work area. As peers they have to pick up the slack as well as watch someone frequently receive the same rewards for incompetent or unnecessary work; there is no incentive for excellence and productivity.

The organization as a whole suffers from lost productivity, poor morale, poor service and a general lack of incentive and acceptance of responsibility; the higher the level of the position the greater the negative impact. The manager and/or board/council responsible suffers because they will eventually be held accountable. And the longer the delay, the greater the amount of any severance package that will ultimately have to be paid.

Such issues must be dealt with as soon as they arise for the benefit of all concerned. They must be dealt with immediately through ongoing performance management rather than waiting for some annual, usually neglected, appraisal process. The greater the delay the more chance there is that the performance problem is in effect condoned and the less the chance for any effective remedial action. The greater the delay the more chance there is that the employee has lost too much respect to remain in the organization. The greater the delay the more chance there is of being boxed in by the legal ramifications of constructive and wrongful dismissal. The sooner that the issues are dealt with the greater the opportunity for other options that can benefit both the employee and the organization:

  • Coaching in the required skills, competencies and behaviors
  • Finding another more suitable position without great loss of face
  • Amicably agreeing that the employee should look for another job
  • Helping the employee understand that they should resign
  • Helping the employee with appropriate career coaching

These options are only available through ongoing performance management and early intervention. None of these options, however, may be successful. The lack of “fit” may be so great that no amount of coaching will succeed and there is no other option than termination. At an early stage, however, termination is far less damaging to the employee as he or she can always say that they quickly realized that this was the wrong job for them and can get on with their career without the loss of respect. The legal issues and potential cost at such an early stage are also far less.

Abdication of the responsibility to deal with such issues is unfair and irresponsible to the individual employee concerned and the organization as a whole. All too often the end result is a termination that takes place in an adversarial and acrimonious manner that is of no benefit to either party. This responsibility is also frequently abdicated to organizational consultants who are contracted to resolve organizational issues without being told that there are underlying performance issues which are well known to the organization, but which have never been addressed. When the issues are then finally confronted and the employee terminated, there is frequently the hypocrisy of those who were aware of the problems, who complained about the problems, who did nothing about the problems and yet express concern, sorrow and even anger over the termination. Consultants, unfortunately, see this problem time and again.

So many organizations today are seeking to create a more participative and productive workplace. What they all too often forget, however, is that such a workplace needs constant care and attention to ensure that all employees fit the desired organizational culture. This requires ongoing performance management, which in turn may require termination – the earlier the better.