Monday Mornings with Madison

How Companies deal with “Bad Employees”

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When Employees Don’t Work Out

Even the best companies have some ‘bad hires’ from time to time.  That doesn’t mean the person is bad… just not a good fit for the company or job.  Employee weaknesses – and every person has some — usually surface within weeks or months after being hired.   Sometimes a new hire simply cannot do essential parts of the job for which he was hired.  Or is too slow in their work speed.  Sometimes a new hire has a bad attitude and cannot get along with others.  Or a short time after being hired, the employee starts getting to work late and taking a lot of time off.  Or perhaps a long-term employee gets moved to a position that is beyond her ability.  Or maybe the company recruits a reputed superstar only to learn that the luminary’s reputation shines brighter than what he can actually do.  It doesn’t take long for the bad employee’s supervisor to know the employee is not performing adequately.  And yet, the person is not let go.  Why?  There are a multitude of reasons why a bad employee might still be on the job.  Some are legitimate considerations and others not.   Here are a few of the most common.

1. Nepotism, Cronyism and Favoritism

Nepotism and the related ‘isms’ are alive and well in the corporate world.  As the saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know that counts.  A lot of hiring is done through connections, and that makes it harder to terminate such people when they have a relationship with a high-level person in the organization.

However, it doesn’t even have to be a family connection that protects those who underperform, although either is a possibility. Most often, the relationship that keeps someone from getting fired is friendship.  People who are well-liked by the leadership stay employed while those who are less liked are let go more easily.  A bad employee may stay around simply because someone in senior management likes having that person around the office.

2. The employee brings more value to the company than he or she costs.

There are times when an employee wastes time and keeps others from being productive, but that person is also indispensable to the company.  In such situations, that person will likely not be fired.   The person who brings a unique skillset or combination of skills or is a utility player that can do a wide variety of jobs will be retained even if he is not the most effective or efficient worker.  An employer may rightly conclude that a brilliant worker whose productivity or creativity has resulted in significant revenue for the company is worth keeping despite other drawbacks.

3. The boss is blind to the employee’s actual performance.

When a supervisor depends on an employee, the supervisor is less likely to attribute poor performance to the employee’s ability or attitude, and more likely to attribute poor performance to forces beyond the employee’s control.  This is a unique type of management blind spot that allows underperforming employees to stay despite their lack of ability or talent.

4. The employee may have flaws but the boss thinks it could be worse.

Even if a supervisor (and everyone else) knows the employee is not pulling his or her weight, management may fear – or know — that a replacement may not solve the problem.  Leadership may have good reason to believe that a replacement will do an even worse job.  This fear is compounded if the business had other people perform the job even more poorly in the past, or they tried to find a replacement and has had no luck finding anyone nearly as talented.

5. The boss feels sorry for the employee.

When a boss is sympathetic to the employee or the employee’s life situation, he might be concerned with the employee’s well-being.  For example, the employer might be concerned that if terminated, the employee will have a hard time being able to find another job.  If the employee is the sole support for a family, recently experienced a major loss or life challenge, or has a major health problem, the leadership might feel it’s best to let that person keep working and focus on tasks that employee can do well.

6. The boss fears the employee for one reason or another.

If there are concerns that an employee might sue the company, possibly become violent if fired, or knows company secrets, the leadership may be hesitant to let that employee go. The company might also take longer to do so.  This happens at times with employees who are in key positions or have a lot of access to systems and processes. If there’s a threat, the company needs to consult with legal or security experts and put appropriate measures in place before letting a bad employee go.

7. The boss doesn’t want to go through the hiring process.

The hiring process is a cumbersome one.  And there is no guarantee that a new hire will be successful, or even be better than the one that was let go.  It takes time to write ads, review applications, narrow the pool, conduct interviews, check references, onboard a new person and go through a three-month learning curve just to see if the person selected was the best fit.  It might be perceived as easier to deal with the cons of a bad apple than deal with a replacement who may not be any better.

8. The employee may be the historical repository of a lot of information.

A bad employee might also be someone who knows a great deal of historical information at a moment’s notice that the company needs. For example, if the employee is the only one who knows how to use a key piece of equipment or software, or is the only one who knows all the codes for merchandise, the employer may need to keep the employee even if that person is not as efficient or effective as he once was.

9. He or she is not really a bad employee.

Some employees may not seem as efficient, effective or useful to a company as others.  But everything is not always as it appears.  There may be employees who are able to do easily what takes others a long time to do… or that others cannot do at all.  That employee may not seem like the most useful, until there is a crisis or emergency and then that person is able to do what no one else can do.  That is something the boss realizes and no one else may recognize, which is why the boss is the boss.

Whatever the situation, all companies will have some staff that they may think are not a good fit, and yet they stay put.   Keep in mind that it is the company management that is responsible for the ‘bad apples’ that they choose to keep, for better or worse.  If the person is truly not right for the firm, eventually neither friendship, empathy or situation will keep a truly bad apple mixed in with the bunch long-term.  And the rest might be better than perceived.  But when the time comes to terminate someone’s employment, a company should handle with the greatest degree of care and consideration… the way one would want one’s own brother or sister treated in that situation.

Quote of the Week

“My advice on firing is simple: Treat that person the same way you’d want to be treated if you were in that situation. They’re still a good person, just not the right fit. So how do you help them move on in a productive way that allows them to maintain their dignity?”
Mary Barra

 

 

© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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