Is Your Company Allowing Underperforming Employees to Fire Themselves?

August 29, 2012

How are you choosing to deal with underperforming employees?

Recently, I was having drinks with a former colleague of mine — also a recruiter — and we were discussing how there is some turnover in his company right now. I attributed it to there being a lot of firing, but he quickly informed me I was mistaken. It wasn’t firing, at least in the traditional sense. It was employees firing themselves.

Yes, you did read that right. These employees were in charge of their own firing. He went on to explain that the employees who left were not performing well, and hadn’t been for some time — yet they were still being employed and management was simply turning a blind eye to avoid having to deal with it. Rather than letting these people go, the company was waiting until the employee got fed up enough to look for another job and/or quit.

I thought back to my time at the company and realized this was entirely true. For the amount of people underperforming on their sales numbers there was also a very low rate of succession.

These employees typically clung on by barely meeting their minimum goals and had gotten so far behind in sales that it was going to be impossible to recuperate. This revelation got me to thinking, how often does this happen?

I cannot see the benefit of keeping an employee who is not performing up to par for any reason. The cons definitely outweigh the pros.

For expansion-stage companies, when each hire is crucial to the progress and culture of the company, this is especially true. Remember the old adage, “One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel?” Well, that also stands when it comes to employees. One employee who is not performing can drag down his or her colleagues. Here are three warning signs to watch out for, and reasons to be proactive and let underperforming employees go:

  • An employee has resigned him or herself to never succeeding at a company. This is a doozey. If an employee thinks “I will muddle along and collect my paycheck until something better comes along,” trust me, it is time to let them go. They do not have the passion to succeed where they are, and they are going to jump at the first chance they can to get out. So why are you keeping them on your payroll?
  • He or she is no longer representing your company the way you intended. It is human nature to blame other people/things/circumstances rather than acknowledging your shortcomings. By keeping employees on board who blame you, the company, or their team for their failures, you can really upset company morale.
  • They can’t take the hint. You’ve had performance meetings with the employee, you have proof that they are missing their goals consistently, but you really like said employee so let’s cut them some slack and wait until they find another job, right? WRONG. Unfortunately, as great as they may be they are not adding to the bottom line of your company vision. You cannot rely solely on people’s circumstances to keep them in a position. At the end of the day business is business.

I am trying to fathom circumstances where waiting for an employee to essentially “fire” himself or herself works in the employer’s advantage. It is not as though there is a shortage of educated qualified candidates available, so there is no reason to hang on to an employee because you feel it is too much of a hassle to replace them.

What do you think? What would you do if you had an employee who was not working out?


Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.