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Management: Firing A Popular Employee
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Management: Firing A Popular Employee - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Firing A Popular Employee

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Firing A Popular Employee

Firing someone is seldom easy, but it can be especially difficult when the employee is especially popular with his or her coworkers. The effect on morale, productivity, and belief in management is tested in situations like these, so it is important to tread with caution. There are human feelings at stake, at the very least, as well as professional considerations, so keep the human element foremost in your thoughts as you consider your strategy.

There are a few common reasons for the disconnect between an employee using up his options and a coworker being an indispensable part of the team when they are the same person. Your evaluation is based on work, where coworkers’ evaluations are often based on interpersonal relationships, and as we all know, one does not necessarily equate with the other. But even on a strictly professional level, one can be a great coworker and a bad employee.

Coworkers see excellent work, willingness to collaborate with others, generosity in sharing credit, and selflessness in volunteering for unpopular tasks. Yet someone can display all these qualities while still being forever behind deadlines, late with paperwork, disrespectful of company culture, or using company time in questionable ways, each of which can go undetected by colleagues while repeatedly addressed in private face-to-face meetings.

In the case of the popular employee whose work is bad, it’s pretty straightforward: you’re a leader, and your team expects you to lead according to established protocols in your office. Even the employee’s best friends on a staff will admit that her work is holding the others back, or that she isn’t carrying her share of the load. The firing might be tough for them on a personal level, but the remaining team will understand and even respect you for your decision, as long as it is carried out responsibly.

In the case of behaviors or performance unseen by the fired employee’s coworkers, you are at an enormous disadvantage because you’re probably not allowed to discuss details with the team. This gives gossip more validity than usual, or the fired employee’s side of the story more weight in shaping employee sentiment. In this case, you have to let it go and count on your already established integrity and goodwill to earn you the benefit of the doubt.

You may have to conduct small-group one-on-two sessions where you ask for employees’ feelings without your giving away details of the separation. In these situations, you can say, “I am asking you to trust me that things happened as they had to, and that all efforts were made to stick to ethical professional protocol.” Whether your team agrees to trust you in this way or not is tough to predict. But your job is to stick to the high road--always follow your higher ideals.

Losing a popular teammate is a challenge to morale under even the best circumstances. If your team is strong, it will recover on its own, but if its esprit de corps is shaky, it may require some intervention. Remember, good team building happens best when people do meaningful work together. Sometimes the best corrective action in repairing an injured team is to stick to the game plan and keep doing what needs to be done.

Act decisively, be as transparent as you’re allowed to be, stick to the high road, and be available for your remaining team, and you can minimize the damage--to people and to your work--when firing a popular employee.


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Management: Firing A Popular Employee - Executive Leadership Articles

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