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When do you let an underperforming employee go?

5 min read


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Q. Should I let an underperforming employee go now, or wait until we find a replacement and why? They are not toxic, just time to move on.

1. Give them the choice

Bad workers usually get warnings. Businesses are entitled to two weeks’ notice. And here, you have a decent worker who, while continuing to add value, has outlived his or her purpose there, to little fault of their own. So, the fair but not painless path is letting the employee choose between going or staying on to save money until either you replace them or they replace their income source. — Manpreet Singh, TalkLocal

2. Give them a different role

Hiring someone is expensive. Once hired, training a new employee is time-consuming. If there’s an employee that is underperforming in their current role, assess what skills they bring to the table and if another role in your company would better suit their talents. Sam might be a poor salesperson, but he could make a fantastic customer care representative. Termination is always my last resort. — Derek Hunter, William Roam

3. Make the hard decision

Let the employee go as soon as you know they’re not the right fit. It allows them to find a better fit for themselves, and once they aren’t there it will make you more motivated to fill the void — otherwise you could last with a subpar employee for a much longer period of time than you’d planned. — Sean Ogle, Location 180 LLC

4. Let them go

Underperformers are are rarely non-toxic. In my experience, most employees look to each other to gauge the acceptable level of performance within your company. When you hold on to C players, you risk your A players leaving out of frustration and your B players conforming due to the assumption that lower standards are acceptable. — Jesse Lear, V.I.P. Waste Services LLC

5. Move on right away

When it comes to building a team, hire slow and fire fast. The worst thing you can do is keep an underperforming employee on your team — it will destroy team morale, create a false sense of expectations and hurt overall performance. — Jonny Simkin, Swyft

6. Make sure they understand from the start

Every employee I hire gets the same speech on the first day, “Don’t be good. Don’t be great. Be irreplaceable to me. I am super busy, and I move really fast. If you don’t make yourself irreplaceable to me, I promise that I will replace you.” It’s our job to make an environment that people love being in, it’s their job to be valuable enough to stay there. I have never wished I fired someone later. — Andrea Lake,

7. Don’t tolerate underperformance

Your team is only as good as your weakest link. Tolerating anything less than great performance undermines your team’s ability to produce the best output. It’s important to solicit constructive feedback from your top performers to ensure deficiencies in your workforce are corrected — either through a performance improvement plan or termination — before it spreads. — Alex Riley, MeritHall

8. Invest in a smooth transition

Your reputation is impacted by how employees, both current and former, perceive your company. When you identify an underperformer, spend time understanding why that person wasn’t a good fit (so you don’t hire the wrong candidate again) and invest resources to help that individual find the right position for his or her next career move (to develop long-term karma). — Danny Wong, Grapevine

9. Focus on finding their replacement

As tempting as it may be to let them go right away, as underperforming is toxic, the subsequent problems left by not having a replacement in place can be even more toxic. Focus on finding a replacement who you can train in conjunction, so when you terminate the underperforming employee you will not suffer from missed deadlines because there was no one to take over for that person’s duties. — Marcela DeVivo, Gryffin Media

10. Help them find a better fit

People often need coaching to get to the next level. If they are not adding value despite your best efforts, don’t keep them as a stop-gap measure. Their poor performance will negatively impact the team, so let them go along with a conversation about why. This will drive you to find your desired A-player while supporting that person’s transition into a different company/role that’s a better fit. — David Hassell, 15Five

11. Keep only the right fits

In his book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins argues that great companies get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus as soon as they realize someone isn’t fitting. Get the underperforming employee off the bus now, to free up that seat for the right candidate and to make sure you’re not demotivating any of the right people on the bus by keeping the underperforming employee around. — Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

12. Don’t give up

This depends on the employee’s overall value to your organization (e.g., he or she has a large role in a current project), as well as whether or not the underperformance is due to a systemic problem or is isolated to the employee. Dig deeper. Identify why the employee has lost interest. If the problem is systemic, find and fix the root cause. — Derek Labian, MediaFire