What Should You Do When an Employee Isn’t Working Out?



employee is not working out


According to the latest PI Recruitment and Retention Trends Survey, small businesses are actually more likely than large businesses to let go when an employee is not working out. When you think about it, this approach makes sense. Because whether it’s an existing employee or a recent hire, small companies can’t afford to have anyone on staff not pulling his or her weight.

When an employee is not working out, it’s stressful for every small business owner. While handling employees who break obvious rules — such as stealing or repeatedly not showing up for work — is fairly clear-cut, things get murkier when an employee “just isn’t working out” for whatever reason. Here are some guidelines to follow in this situation.



Identify the Problem

This might be:

  • Performance – The person is not meeting expectations for quality, timeliness or amount of work.
  • Attitude – A negative attitude can poison other employees and be just as destructive as failing to perform.
  • Cultural fit – Employees who don’t get along with others struggle to work effectively in teams.

Document and Quantify the Problem

Whether you’re trying to create a legal case for dismissal or simply prevent the person from getting defensive when you address the issue, it’s important to have facts on your side rather than presenting vague criticism. Take some time and work with the person’s direct supervisors if necessary to document specifics such as:

  • Not meeting quotas or standards
  • Failing to follow procedures correctly
  • Complaints from customers or co-workers

Gather backup materials including emails, chats/IMs, accounts from co-workers, etc. to support your case.

Confront the Problem

Meet with the employee in person and address the issue. Keep your conversation fact-based and nonthreatening. Your aim at this point is to open up discussion and come up with a plan for remedying the situation if possible.

Lay out the facts of the situation as you see them, calling on your documentation and giving specific examples.



Find the Root of the Problem

If a previously good employee has suddenly started performing poorly or a happy worker is suddenly bitter, you need to get to the bottom of it.

Is the issue something in his or her personal life? Is there a personality conflict with a co-worker? Has a new system been properly explained? Does the person lack adequate resources to do the job properly (education, training, equipment)?

Probe with questions to find out what the employee sees as the cause.

Create a Solution

Work with the employee to come up with a solution that both of you think is realistic, whether that involves changing the person’s behavior, moving schedules/jobs/people around for a better fit, or providing additional resources.



Set New Goals and Timelines

Put the agreed-upon solution in writing, including a timeline for improvement and what will happen if goals are not met. Basically, this constitutes a written warning that the person’s behavior is not up to par. (Check with your state’s labor laws as well as federal labor laws to make sure that you are following procedures for verbal and written warnings.)

Follow Up

Follow-through is key to discipline. Monitor the employee’s performance and behavior and check in with him or her at the agreed-upon date/s to review progress toward the goals you’ve agreed on.

What if the employee can’t get it together? Some employees are willing to admit that it’s just not working out and resign on their own. Others are more combative and will fight you on the issue. Because terminating employees can be fraught with legal peril, in either situation, it’s best to consult an employment lawyer just to make sure you’re dotting all your Is and crossing your Ts before the person leaves — or is asked to leave — your company.

Under Performing Employee photo via SWhutterstack



2 Comments ▼

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

2 Reactions
  1. Be solution oriented. Don’t take things personally. I have seen so many business owners get overly emotional about a matter that they fail to make a good decision regarding their employees.

  2. Take the bandaid approach and make it quick, because it’s going to be painful either way.

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