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Updated: May 17, 2024

How to decide when an employee has become too much of a problem

Has letting someone go become a blind spot for employers? Deciding when an employee has become too much of a problem and preventing the spread of their behavior to others is a challenge.  

Courtesy / ACE
Francis Eberle, Price Associates

There is a delicate balance between maintaining a productive workforce and ensuring fair treatment of employees. Compounding this, locating a qualified replacement is problematic.  

An employee not meeting expectations poses dual challenges. First, tasks may be neglected. This means that the work will either remain undone, or others will need to pick up the slack. Second, negative attitudes and behavior influences colleagues.

Research shows that even a single underperforming team member can drag down the overall team performance. Managers dealing with such employees may feel unable to improve the situation, adding to their stress.

A recent Randstad study revealed that a significant portion of employees (34%) have no interest in becoming managers, and many (39%) are not interested in promotions. This trend presents a concerning outlook for those in the leadership development field.

Before deciding to let an underperforming employee go, start with a high-level overview of the employee’s impact on the organization. Consider:

  • Who does this person interact with, externally and internally?
  • Have you received feedback about their lack of performance externally and/or internally?
  • What is the long-term impact of their performance on external clients and partners?
  • To what degree is their lower performance affecting others on their team and the company?
  • To what degree has their manager tried to support, guide and as necessary put them on a performance plan?

These questions should clarify whether the employee is contributing, or just collecting a paycheck. If your answers upset you, then it’s time to take a deeper dive:

Evaluate the impact: Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of the employee's performance and behavior. Look at how their actions affect the overall productivity, morale, and culture of the company. Consider not only their delegated tasks but also their interactions with colleagues and clients.

Consider long-term effect: Look beyond immediate issues and consider the potential long-term effects of keeping the employee in their current role. Evaluate how their performance may affect the company's reputation, client relationships, and team dynamics over time.

Managerial support: Evaluate the level of support and guidance the employee has received from their manager. Has the manager provided clear expectations, regular feedback, and opportunities for improvement? Determine if additional support or training could help address the issues.

Review company expectations: Review the company's values, mission, and expectations for employee behavior. Compare these expectations to the employee's actions and assess whether they align with the company's standards. Consider if the employee is actively contributing to the company's goals or merely fulfilling their job duties.

Preventative measures: Implement proactive measures to address performance issues before they escalate. Provide ongoing training and development opportunities to help employees improve their skills and stay motivated. Encourage open communication and feedback to address issues early on.

Cultural fit: Consider how well the employee fits into the company culture. Evaluate their values, work ethic, and attitude towards teamwork. If the employee's behavior is consistently at odds with the company culture, it may be necessary to address this issue.

Celebrate milestones: Recognize and celebrate employee achievements to boost morale and motivation. Acknowledge both individual and team accomplishments to foster a positive work environment.

By carefully evaluating these factors, you can make informed decisions about when an employee has become too much of a problem and take appropriate action to address the issue while preventing negative behaviors from spreading to others in the company.

Leaders often miss the connection between employees, their role and their tasks and the company’s goals or vision. They also want to understand the support system and opportunities that could be available to them. A healthy culture can attract to new employees who want to be a part of your team. 

Deciding on whether an employee should move on can be an easier decision if the employee recognizes that they do not fit in with the culture of the company.

Recently a CEO shared this approach: “If you change the culture of your company, it will change the people.”

If they do not like the change, they will move on. Then they contribute to the decision leading to a less confrontational exit for them and you. 

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