top of page

Five Questions to Ask Before Terminating an Employee

Q. For the first time, I think I need to terminate an employee. I don’t take this lightly and I want to make sure that I’m making the right decision. How can I be sure that this is the right thing to do?

A. You are right. For both legal and moral reasons, the decision to terminate employment is an important one that should not be taken lightly. With that said, there comes a time when it is the right decision.

There are times when the decision to terminate employment is crystal clear. The employee’s actions leave you no choice. For example, you know beyond any doubt that the employee has been stealing from you or the employee has been sabotaging your business by telling your best customers to stop doing business with you and go to a competitor. In such cases, decisive action is required. However, in most cases, the employee hasn’t done something egregious, she/he is simply not meeting your performance expectations.

In such cases, we suggest asking yourself the following questions, based on work done by Brocato and Simone. They are invaluable when determining if there is more that you, as the manager, should be doing, or if it’s time to throw in the proverbial towel:

  • Does the employee clearly understand your expectations? More than 50 percent of the disciplinary actions we’ve dealt with in our careers have had at least some element of misunderstanding between the employee and the manager. First, explain your expectations in detail. Next, ask your employee to feedback to you how he/she will fulfill the requirements. This will help to eliminate miscommunication.

  • Have you removed all organizational roadblocks? Management only has the power to remove roadblocks that are internal to the organization. You can’t be responsible for removing employee-generated roadblocks (that is, personal problems). Organizational speed bumps may include policies, procedures, internal politics or a lack of critical resources. Removing hurdles helps employees to be more effective. Before terminating an employee, make sure you have done your part to help her/him succeed.

  • Is the employee fully trained and has he/she had enough time to practice? While your employee professed experience during the interview process, all organizations are unique. Different computer systems, policies, procedures and corporate culture can prevent good employees from being immediately successful. Make sure the employee is appropriately trained and has had sufficient time to practice the new skills.

  • Have you motivated the employee to perform? Most employees need both rewards and consequences to deliver peak performance. An environment that is skewed heavily to either one or the other will result in dysfunction. Giving employees praise for a job well done often results in the behavior being repeated. Catch employees doing something right and tell them about it. Likewise, employees must understand that poor performance may result in discipline and/or termination. Avoiding negative feedback may make things easier for the manager in the short-term, but it’s unfair to the employee and will result in greater problems in the long-term.

If and only if you can answer the first four questions with a resounding “Yes,” you are ready to consider question number five:

  • Is the employee capable and/or willing to do the work? “Capable” is easier to understand. Some jobs aren’t suited to certain individuals. Perhaps the physical requirements are too strenuous or the intellectual demands are above her/his cognitive capabilities. If this is the case, you might be tempted to move the employee to a new role. We urge pursuing this option with great caution. Once things have gone this far wrong, repairing the situation can be difficult. Termination is usually the best course. Under any circumstances, you need to examine your hiring process. How did an incapable employee get the job in the first place?

Sometimes the person is fully capable and for whatever reason, internal to him/her, is unwilling to perform. At this point, you must consider termination.

If you find yourself at question five, having answered “Yes” to the first four questions, termination may be the best option. Just make sure you have fully explored the other questions first.

bottom of page