Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA
Why are leaders hesitant to do this?
Except in egregious situations, this is always the last resort. Of course, leaders are hesitant to do this. They should be. It means the organization’s recruitment and retention processes have failed. The confrontation is unpleasant. Difficult people usually believe they were justified in behaving the way they did, and they will go to their graves convinced that their firing was unjust. As for the courageous leader who fired them, they will hate her guts forever. And these resentful people always seem to be getting their groceries at the same time as the leader who finally stood up to them. When Clare Booth Luce and Oscar Wilde (attributed) said “No good deed goes unpunished,” this is what they meant.
What is the case for doing it anyway?
Sometimes it just has to be done. Bitter, miserable people are poison and their affecting droppings pollute the entire workplace. If you avoid dealing decisively with this obvious contagion, you will forfeit your own credibility. Those who are struggling to remain positive will give up on you and choose a more determined leader in another company. You may mistakenly think you cannot afford to lose this difficult employee. Actually, you cannot afford not to.
How can you do it?
- Make sure you have made your expectations clear. People have a right to know which behaviors are unacceptable and they deserve a chance to straighten up. It’s the fair thing to do.
- Warn them that failure to change will result in their termination. Don’t beat around the bush about this. Put it in writing.
- Give the deviant a reasonable chance to turn herself around. Don’t make the mistake of promising to reevaluate the situation after 90 days. Anyone can act better for 90 days. Make it clear that the disruptive behavior must disappear forever.
- Send them home immediately. Don’t allow them to work out a notice and cause more havoc. Be done with it now. Pay them for their two-week notice. This will be one of the best investments in your colleagues you will ever make.
How have you successfully removed a difficult person from the workplace?