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Dismissing an employee? Tough job!

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March 06, 2008

Deciding whether to dismiss an employee puts significant emotional strain on any manager � no matter how experienced he or she is. By acknowledging the difficult aspects of this event, you can more effectively manage your emotions and stress level.

Acknowledging the emotional impact

During the decision process, you may experience one or more of the following feelings:

Acknowledging the uncertainty

You may also feel some confusion or uncertainty over how to decide whether to dismiss a worker or how to actually implement a dismissal if matters should come to that. For example, you may be wondering:

Tips: Consider using a communications coach to provide emotional support during dismissals. A good communications coach can help you sort through the emotional complexities that often characterize such situations. He or she can also help you maintain needed perspective and can replenish your energy just by listening.

What Would You do? Marshalling Courage for a Tough Decision

When Kia Hired Marshall, she had been impressed with his energy and drive. He was enthusiastic and learned their products quickly. A few months later, Kia sat looking at Marshall's sales reports. He wasn't meeting his goals � in fact, he wasn't even coming close. Everyone in the department was hitting their revenue targets except for him. In addition, his reports were disorganized and incomplete. Some were even missing!

Kia shook her head sadly. How could she have been so wrong? Marshall might have the personality for sales, but he sure lacked the discipline and organizational skills to be truly successful. Maybe it was time to cut her losses and let Marshall go. What other choice did she have?

Managing Yourself

Understand that dismissing someone may have difficult consequences for everyone � you, the affected employee, and your remaining team members. Once implemented, a dismissal can be difficult even for people outside the company.

For example, a customer or supplier who had established a professional connection with the affected employee may wonder why he or she has been dismissed or question the performance of the entire team.

Acknowledge that if you've truly tried everything to help solve the employee's performance or behavior problem, you've done your best to give him or her a fair chance to improve. Realize, too, that being dismissed may actually be a relief for the affected employee. After all, few people enjoy being in a job where things aren't working out.

Discuss your feeling about the situation with your support network outside of your organization � your family members, friends, colleagues, and others who are good listeners -- and ask them how they might handle the emotions associated with the decision.

What You Could Do

Let's go back to Kia's dilemma.

The mentors suggested this solution:

While dismissing an employee may seem like the only solution to a problem, there are other alternatives worth exploring. For example, Kia might consider coaching Marshall to clarify performance expectations. She might also consider sending him to a training session to improve his sales skills. If the situation doesn't improve, she might then decide to issue Marshall a formal warning or put him on probation.

It's important for Kia to document Marshall's poor performance and note the steps she's taken to help him improve. Throughout the process, Kia should consult her human resource department and/or legal counsel to ensure that she's following her company's policies and procedures correctly.

 Dismissing an Employee, Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges; 

Copyright 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. 

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