We all know there are many benefits to owning a business. But we also all know there are a few undeniable downsides:
- Spending many days simply running off of determination and coffee.
- Late nights and long hours.
- And my personal least favorite: Firing employees.
So how do you handle it when a valued employee’s performance suddenly drops off? Or maybe your organization is growing in a different direction creatively, culturally or even hierarchically?
It’s a delicate situation and one that takes careful consideration of the company as a whole while planning what should come next. Compassion can only go so far when the decrease in ROI (return on investment) due to an underperforming employee is putting a major dent in your bottom line.
So here are some best practices for handling slacker employees.
Slacker Scenario #1: When They’re Well-Liked But Slacking On The Job
Once upon a time I had an employee who I really liked personally. But it was undeniable that their work had declined. After letting it go on much longer than I should have, I finally fired them in the most gentle way I could surmise.
Avoiding the situation due to my own discomfort was a disservice to that employee’s career as well as to the team members that had to make up for years of low performance levels.
In the end, it wasn’t even kind to the former employee. The individual applied for job after job that they weren’t really qualified for (but thought they were, due to the lack of negative feedback). In trying to be nicer to this employee, I ultimately:
- Put the rest of the team in the position of making up for lost revenue.
- Gave the employee an overly-padded resume (which had obvious negative side effects on her job search).
- Took a hit to my bottom line.
Slacker Scenario #2: When They Really Do Have Potential
So maybe it’s not quite time to let the employee go. Luckily, this scenario is easier to handle and happens more often than the former.
The employee has shown great performance in the past but maybe started showing up later than normal, exhibiting a bad attitude about work, or just generally seems down. Now is the time to act and address the performance issue and find out what is really going on. Let the individual know that their problems are heard and taken into consideration.
Former CEO Todd Patkin addresses this very situation in his latest book, Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and–Finally–Let the Sunshine In. According to Patkin, asking your employees for their help, saying things like “I noticed what you did” or even simply saying “thank you” may just be enough to turn around morale and help that employee leave personal problems at the door.
The Solution for Slacker Employees
When – not if – you find yourself in either one of the above situations (or a different one where an employee’s performance is down and action is required), here are a few suggestions to handle the situation in a professional manner while giving slacker employees the opportunity to grow in their career.
1. Train Them
More often than we’d like to admit, someone is falling down on the job because we (or our other employees) didn’t train them well enough.
Have an honest conversation with the employee about what goals aren’t being met and figure out what the problem is together. Keep in mind that improvement is only going to happen if both parties want it to happen. If your slacker employees aren’t looking to solve the problem – it might be time to look for new ones.
2. Wait It Out
Sometimes there are incidents that are truly out of someone’s control.
For example, if your employee’s husband/wife gets sick, their performance is probably going to drop. We all have off days. If you can afford to, and you know what the root of the issue is, then wait it out and trust that your all-star employee will return when their personal crisis is resolved.
3. Accept That Firing People Is a Part Of Business
And that’s just part of being the business owner. Does it suck? Absolutely. But you can mitigate that by knowing when to wait it out or retrain the employee.
Remind yourself that putting it off isn’t fair to anyone – not you, not your other employees, not the problem employee – and definitely not your customers.
As business owners, we’re tasked with running a business. We hire people who we hope will share our vision and join us on our road to success. It doesn’t always work out.
If talking to the employee, engaging in more training or giving the issue some time doesn’t resolve the problem, remember the wise words of Mario Puzo, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.”
Sleeping  Photo via Shutterstock