Disengaged Employees: 3 Ways to Know When to Fold [Challenging HR 2]

In my recent blog post, Do You Fire a Disengaged Employee, we discussed things to try when you realize you have disengaged employees. But even if you try re-engaging them by offering additional training, flexibility, inspiration and a listening ear, sometimes it just won’t matter. Sometimes you’ll have employees who are too far removed.

It’s then you have to make a hard decision. Letting someone go is never easy. It’s one of the hardest parts of our job. But the truth of the matter is that sometimes it’s gotta happen.

Here are 3 ways to know it’s time to fold:

1. You have numbers to back up that the employee isn’t cutting it. When a problem creeps up, we have a hard but meaningful conversation about how to turn things around. Don’t dance around this uncomfortable situation. Get to the heart of the problem early on.

It’s at that time you need to set clear expectations about what the employee needs to do. Give clear, measurable goals so there are no more excuses. When you take this route, there’s no room for “I’ll try harder” over and over again.

If you’ve talked to an employee about changing but they fall into old patterns, the likelihood is that the employee won’t change no matter how many chances you give.

2. A toxic employee starts infecting the rest of your team. You may be trying to re-engage an employee, but sometimes it’s more than just being disengaged. Sometimes they’re toxic. A toxic employee starts back-biting, lying, refusing to cooperate with others, always blaming others or acting out with any number of unacceptable behaviors.

The real problem is that everyone else notices too. The team can’t function in a positive way anymore. Others may start thinking, “Well if Bob’s doing that, then I can too.” It may have already started happening. You don’t want a team full of Bobs!

3. You’re spending way too much time on one employee. In small companies—or frankly any size—you don’t have the money or time to be wasting on someone who is just not going to work out. Maybe it’s lack of integrity or just a plain bad attitude. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself working too much on one employee, remember what that’s showing others. You’re putting most of your efforts into your bottom employees while your good employees are ignored. Then you don’t have time to focus on recognizing or developing those who truly deserve it.

We’ve all heard it: be slow to hire and quick to fire. So why is that so hard to do? You usually just KNOW when an employee is not going to work out. When you see those warning signs, you may just have to cut your losses. Of course, make sure you do it within the framework of the laws, but your gut is usually right in this type of situation.

It’s not easy.  But you know when it’s the right thing to do. Often, it’s easier for everyone involved if you just rip off the bandage.

Be sure to check back in for the final part of this series to learn ways to handle the most dreaded part of our job: telling an employee to pack up and go.