CHICAGO — When an employee proves to be difficult — either for temporary reasons resulting from family stress, illness or some other cause, or because they have deficits in their work ethic — it can cause stress both for their fellow workers and for management.
If management has set clear guidelines and communicates openly with their team, however, some of this stress can be better managed. When it comes time to take firmer action, the warnings have not been unclear.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the cost to both the company and its employees when leaders allow bad behavior to go unchecked. In Part 2, we examined ways employers can build a platform of trust and accountability to head off problems before they become an issue. Today, we’ll conclude by highlighting ways employers can protect themselves and their business when having to make difficult decisions.
Document, Document, Document
When dealing with inappropriate behavior or productivity issues, it’s important it is for supervisors to document their interactions with employees.
“Make sure you are documenting everything, even if you just have a conversation with an employee,” says Amy Wischmann, policies and procedures manager at Benzinger’s Clothing Care, located in western New York state. “One of the best things that a supervisor or manager can do is just take five minutes afterwards to type up how that conversation went. Later, check back in with that employee and let them know that’s how you recalled the conversation. Ask them if that’s their recollection, as well, and have them sign off and acknowledge it. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming.”
This step is important, she says, both to provide clear instructions to the employee and to provide a paper trail if termination is the ultimate result.
“The only protection as an employer you’re going to have is if you can open to your personnel files or your computer files and say, ‘Yes, here are three different times that we documented speaking to this employee prior to terminating them,’” she says.
Sean Abbas, president of Threads Inc., a software company he co-founded to help organizations review employees and manage performance, adds that capturing conversations in the moment can provide a leader with a clearer picture of the relationship, rather than risking those talks being lost in time.
“Supervisors and managers can forget about 10 things because they wrote nothing down,” he says. “Remember — you’re about to walk into the owner’s office or to the HR office to say, ‘Look, I’ve had it with this person. They’ve been late numerous times.’ The first thing they’re going to ask you is, ‘Have you documented anything?’”
Being able to pull up notes allows everyone to be on the same page, says Abbas: “You have to understand that you’re 10 steps down the road, but HR is really starting from step one. If you haven’t written anything down, there’s not really much that can be done formally about it. But if you walk in with a list, then you can go to that written warning.”
Time to Let Go
When the decision is made to terminate an employee’s time at a company, Abbas believes the final call should come as no surprise to anyone.
“If we’re going to get to the place where we’re going to part company, I’m never going to just blindside them,” he says. “I’m going to make sure that if we’re at that place, when I walk out and say, ‘Hey, I need to visit with you in my office,’ they know it. We’ve talked about it. They know there’s a problem. We have documented the problems. We’ve spoken about the problems. I’ve asked if there’s anything we can do to help them resolve the issues.”
Abbas says that this clarity serves everyone in this unfortunate circumstance.
“I know they knew what was at stake,” he says. “And they’ve chosen not to do what I’ve asked them to do. In other words, when it gets to that point, the employee has chosen to not work for you anymore — you’re just simply opening the door and letting them walk out.”
For Wischmann, preparing for a termination meeting is just as important as preparing for any other meeting.
“We talk about onboarding new employees, but there’s also the process of offboarding that should be thought about,” she says. “Knowing in advance what to plan for is valuable. Are you going to pay them the rest of their sick days, PTO (paid time off) or vacation time? Also, think through what that employee might have that needs to be returned. Do they have keys to the building? Do they have a computer?”
She also says that, during such a meeting, there should be a witness: “You want more than one person there, whether that’s your HR person, or the owner and the supervisor of the person. You want someone else in that meeting.”
Also, have a document that the employee can sign: “It can be very simple — just a little one-page form acknowledging that they understand that they were terminated. You don’t want to go into detail. You don’t need to give them a lot of reasons about why they are being let go. You want to keep that pretty concise.”
Perhaps most importantly, Abbas says, is to have clarity into why the person is being terminated from your company, and leave emotions out of it — both for the employee’s sake and your own.
“If you’re firing someone because of what they did, you’d better be firing them for exactly what they did,” he says. “You need to be communicating those things and leave the personal stuff out of it. It doesn’t serve any purpose. It’s not going to make you feel any better.
“This isn’t the movies — this is a person’s life. It’s their livelihood. You have to be able to live with yourself and how you’ve done what you’ve done, and how you communicated what you’ve communicated.”
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].