Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I have an employee who has performance issues that are well documented. In fact, he has been slated for termination several times and, in each instance, managed to convince a former manager that he should be allowed to retain his position. However, after making a major mistake which could cost us a large client, the time has come to part ways.
Given that we are so close to Christmas, I am curious as to how other managers and organizations have handled such a situation? Do you terminate immediately, wait until after the holidays, or wait until the new year?
In addition to doing what is right by this person, we obviously don't want to have any adverse affect on morale by terminating someone on Christmas Eve.
Well, if keeping him on a few more weeks would cause harm to your business (i.e., he'll cause real damage in that amount of time), then you really can't avoid acting now. (And be generous with the severance if you can.) But otherwise, you should deal with him for a couple of weeks more and do it in early January.
Reasons for this are: 1) Compassion -- You don't want to be someone who fires people right before Christmas, as long as you can avoid it without real harm; and 2) The morale of others -- You don't want your other employees to conclude that you're a jerk who fires people right before Christmas.
It's worth noting, though, that this is yet one more good reason not to put off dealing with serious performance issues (which it sounds like was allowed to happen here). If you put it off rather than acting when you know you should, then you sometimes run into a situation which ends up making it harder to terminate -- and not just the holidays. Imagine if you'd put it off and then he happened to file a claim for medical leave or a disability accommodation (unrelated to the performance issues) just as you were about to act. You could still proceed, of course, but now you'd have a sticky legal minefield to navigate, and your risk factor would go way up.
So when you know you need to let someone go, don't drag it out. And yes, most managers, being human, like to give people additional chances and like to avoid telling people they're failed. And as a result, many managers prolong these situations when they shouldn't. But you've got to do it before it causes more problems, so resolve to resolve this as soon as the holidays are over.
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