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Overcoming The Fear of Firing

"It was obvious that this employee could not relate well to clients. But I could not bring myself to fire him.... and while I wavered, things only got worse for everyone in the department."

Having to fire someone is one of the most difficult actions any manager or executive may have to take. It is an action that many manager's find endless excuses to avoid, as did the executive quoted above. Yet, in certain cases it is unavoidable. Firing is a managerial art that many otherwise successful supervisor's neglect to develop.

When Is Firing Appropriate?: Most people take pride in and care about their job responsibilities. There are some people, however, whose pride in their job is, unfortunately, unwarranted. Others, exist who don't think pride enters into it -- that "a job's a job". Still others are of the belief that they deserve a job because of their circumstances, or their longevity, not necessarily because they are working up to standard. Some people genuinely need a job, but cannot do the quality of work necessary to sustain their position. When the needs of an individual group member come into serious conflict with the needs of the group, the manager must place higher priority on the well-being of the group. The manager must look beyond the individual needs to the survival of the organization.

These are four areas where the performance of employees most frequently detracts from the performance of the organization to the extent that firing is necessary. Listed in order of frequency, they are:

  • Poor work habits Chronic lateness and absenteeism: shirking of job responsibilities; sloppy, careless work. One manager reported firing a supervisor who sat and shouted across the room instead of walking over to talk to the employees working under him. He was often found sleeping on his desk rather than watching the assembly line.
  • Sub-par job performance: Inability to satisfactorily perform job responsibilities; inability to develop necessary skills. Specific problems cited include "lack of supervisory skills," "lack of empathy and patience," "inability to plan," or "inability to keep up with others in the same job category/job description."
  • Unacceptable behavior: Behavior which is detrimental to the organization, clients, or employees. In supervisors, these behaviors relate to inappropriate disciplining of an employee such as "striking an employee," "verbally abusing an employee." Unacceptable behavior for employees involves disrupting the organization by "refusing to cooperate with other employees," or by "inciting disharmony and negativism among co-workers."
  • Policy violations: Unwillingness to conform to organizational policies and philosophies including "stealing property," "violating the confidentiality of the organization," "refusal to adapt to the methods used to accomplish work," and "coming to work intoxicated."

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