These two emails came this week. While they're similar, I promise they are not from the same person:
Dear Evil HR Lady,
How can we deal with this kind of HR Lady? A few weeks ago she went to a club and got so drunk she needed help. My co-workers saw her and took her home. She bit one of them.
She yells. She is not approachable. If we need something from her, we ask our supervisor for help. She doesn't respond to our emails unless we copy our General Manager.
Dear Evil HR Lady,
I work at a small (75 people) construction company. We have a problem with our HR manager. She is embroiled in a huge conflict with the accounts payable person. They have to work together on payroll, and constant screaming and fighting is a part of every pay period. During one particular argument, she shoved the AP person into the lunchroom refrigerator. She constantly makes mistakes and has also done some things that violate law. When confronted, she cries, carries on, and shifts the blame to others. Much of the office staff has tired of listening to her and has lost all respect for her.
The owners have reached the limit of their tolerance but seem to be at a loss as to how to resolve the situation. They're extremely loyal to everyone who works for them and would not consider letting her go. However, it has become painfully obvious that she's not behaving appropriately as an HR manager and is likely in over her head. What is the best course of action?
To my letter writers, I say: In both cases the HR manager needs to be fired.
Violence is never appropriate. In the first case she bit (!) someone. It was outside of the office, so you could argue that it wasn't work related. However, ask yourself: Would you hire someone you knew bit someone else? In the second case, she hit another employee in the office and is violating employment laws. (Although, the AP person shouldn't be engaging in screaming matches either.)
Second, neither of these women have the respect of the office. They are unresponsive and unhelpful. It is time to let both of them go.
But, in both cases, the owners/senior team is ignoring this behavior. I confirmed this with both letter writers. In the latter case, the writer was hoping if she and a group of coworkers went to the owners together they would listen.
Are you making this mistake? Giving chances where chances shouldn't be given? Giving someone a pass on bad behavior because he/she has been a part of the team since the beginning? Doing their job because it's easier than getting that person to perform? Do you know someone needs to go, but are clueless on how to do it?
It's niceness getting in the way and it causes real problems. Yes, you should be nice. Please, please, please be nice. But being nice means being nice to everyone, and when you ignore a big, big problem (e.g. a biting or hitting HR manager who ignores email, violates the law, and is not approachable), you're not being nice to the rest of your staff.
Here's the thing: You will lose good people over behavior like this. And why? What are you gaining from it? Why keep the non-performer around? The only person who benefits is you because you can go to sleep at night not being the cause of someone losing her job. But, in these cases, the boss will not be the reason for the termination. The HR manager is causing her own destruction.
Do not blame yourself when you have to terminate someone for being a jerk. Feel bad when you have to terminate someone because of finances, or because they are trying their hardest but just can't do the job.
You can attempt coaching and I'm (almost) never opposed to giving someone a second chance. But if you do that, write a strict performance improvement plan with a set of goals that need to be accomplished, along with a set end day if the goals aren't achieved.
But, if you want your business to succeed, it's time to fire the jerks.