Firing somone

What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Firing Someone

“It’s not the people you fire who make your life miserable. It’s the people you don’t.” ― Dick Grote, Discipline Without Punishment: The Proven Strategy That Turns Problem Employees into Superior Performers

As I teach in my Project Management Class, a manager should try his or her best to bring around a difficult employee.

The same is true in day to day management of employees. That said, sometimes even with the best of trying, it just doesn’t work out and the manager must let the employee go. This isn’t easy and is one of the worst jobs of a manager. No one wants to adversely affect anyone’s life and career.

The day firing becomes easy is the day to fire yourself. –  Tom Peters

But to ignore it or hope it goes away on its own is to not deal with reality.

And by not addressing it more harm can occur. Hopefully you will never have to face this. But, if you do, make sure it is handled properly and promptly. Good managers do and that is why they are good managers.

There are a number of reasons why an employee should be fired. These include:

We hire and employ individuals because we feel they are competent and can do the work required of them. In fact, we hope that they will go above and beyond in certain instances. At the least, we expect them to do what is asked, do it well and get it done on time.

Poor work record

There seems to be a trend now called “Quiet Quitting”, where certain individuals hate their work, job, boss and maybe even the company. But they don’t quit and go somewhere else. They stay and at best do their bare minimum.

We have had employees like that for years. They were called  slackers. All companies have them. As a manager and a consultant I always went by the 20-60-20 rule. The bottom 20 were the problem children and they usually retired, quit or were fired. So Quiet Quitting is nothing new.

In the 20-60-20 rule we have to watch the 60 group. They will perform based on how we manage the others. If we tolerate sloppy and late work with no punishment, guess what? They will act accordingly and may become problems.

So tolerating poor quality and late work is unacceptable and may cause other employees to act in a similar fashion.  If it is dealt with by letting someone(s) go then so be it.

Ongoing bad behavior

Even if a person is performing well, we should expect them to follow the rules and to get along with their co-workers. That doesn’t mean becoming best buddies and going out socially after work.

That means being pleasant and respectful of others. If they cannot, then no matter how good a performer they are, remember the 20-60-20 rule? The 60 in the middle are watching and will perform and act in kind to how we treat people, especially those in the bottom 20 group.

Unethical conduct

Most companies have policies, procedures and a code of ethics. Even if they don’t or if it is lacking certain aspects, there should be a code of conduct that all employees are expected to maintain

If this is violated, you have no choice but to dismiss that employee. There shouldn’t be a  3 strike rule. This isn’t about a lapse of judgement.

If word gets out that you and / or the company allows and tolerates unethical behavior you will suffer not only from within, but from externally as well.

Drug or alcohol possession and usage at work

Company policies usually have points about non-use or workplace possession of drugs and alcohol. While it is fine to go out for a beer or a drink after work, one cannot show up for work inebriated or high. Nor should they have or be using any drugs that are not prescribed by a licensed physician.

While some may think that being a little high or relaxed is not such a bad thing, it is. Allowing a person to deal with dangerous equipment or materials or to have them compromise the safety of others while under the influence is a big no-no.

Even if they are working in an office environment, that  does not let them off of the hook. Again, this is a zero tolerance situation and should be dealt with immediately.


This is also not a new phenomenon. In fact it may be getting worse with time.

Certain individuals feel that taking just a little product or pens, paper, and other supplies is not a big deal. The company makes a lot of money and won’t miss a few small items.

But this can add up, especially if everyone feels and acts the same way. When I interviewed for a job in 1977, the company did some role playing. As a manager I found some employees loading some materials into the trunk of their car. What should I do?

Their answer was to fire them on the spot. No questions asked. That was in 1977. What holds true then holds true today.

Using company time or property for personal business

Stealing from a company is not just taking material things, but also using company time for your own business. You are paid 40 hours a week to perform. When you use any of that time for your own business, you are asking to be paid to do you own thing, something for which the company derives no benefit.

I am not so naïve to think that everyone doesn’t do it at some time. Taking that call from your wife of friend certainly happens. Or shooting the breeze with a co-worker occurs as well. It is making sure it is not so flagrant and that more time is spent doing that than company work. When it becomes that, it is time to go.

A friend of mine’s son-in-law worked for Marvel comics. With each new edition release he was given 5 copies. He promptly spent his work time selling the comics on line. This was both a violation of his agreement to not sell the gifts, but also the fact that he was using company resources to do so.

Needless to say he lost his job and hasn’t worked again since.

Too many absences

Most companies give personal time. It is to be used for emergencies or when you must do something during work hours. It isn’t considered vacation time or free time to be used for whatever. And if one becomes ill, there is short and long term compensation when one needs a lot of time off to recover or recuperate.

When individuals treat this as owed time off regardless of what they do with it, that is wrong. My wife had a friend whose husband thought that was the case. When we got together he would tell me he had over 100 days accumulated and was planning what to do with all that time off.

That is not what it is there for. That mentality is exactly what  must be stopped. And if it means firing some folks to set an example for others, so be it.

Bad culture fit

Companies talk a lot about their culture. This means different things to different companies.

Before joining a company you should know what their culture is. If you do not feel it is a good fit for you then do not join. You don’t tend to socialize with people you do not agree with or get along with. Why work for someone like that?

But sometimes people do for whatever reason.  And then they struggle. If and when they do it is incumbent on the manager to do something about it. Usually the best course is for them to move on.

Customer, vendor and co-worker complaints

When someone violates one or more of these things, chances are good you will hear about it. It is bad enough if you hear from their co-workers. But, when you hear about it from a vendor or worst of all a customer, you must act. To not do so, could mean permanent damage to you and your firm

Firing someone is about as unpleasant a thing as a manager can do, even if the person is not nice.

It certainly affects their livelihood and also their life. But as many have written, you are not firing the person, they are firing themselves by not doing what is expected of them.

In my career I had to fire three individuals. The first was not of my choosing.

Chuck had been with the company for 25 years. At one time he was the Assistant Chief Engineer. He then worked for me and could be difficult at times. But he was very smart and handled very difficult, technical problems. But he wasn’t popular with the new management. When the company decided to reduce headcount, he was selected to be released.

I was told about an hour before the time that I had to fire him even though it wasn’t my decision. It was hard to do and I had a hard time dealing with what I had done. In order to get my head straight, I had an audience with the VP and told him how much it sucked to get rid of a someone who while difficult, was doing a fine job and someone I could deal with.

The second person I had to fire joined the company from out of state.

We helped him to find temporary housing and he was expected to find something more permanent within 90 days. He didn’t and started missing work  while using company time to locate something. It affected his work greatly.

He reported to my tooling engineer who refused to deal with the situation. Finally enough was enough and I let him go. Not as painful as with Chuck, but still not pleasant.

Chris was the third person I let go.

He had worked for an affiliate who fired him, but that didn’t influence my hiring him because the affiliate often did strange things.

At first he was good, not great but good. But then things changed. He was into buying and selling comic books. That seemed to be his focus. We talked about it and for a time he was better. But then he would slip back into focusing on his side business.

The clincher was when he spent too much time on a certain project, blew the budget and hadn’t completed the work. That was it and he was gone.

In two of the three instances, termination was warranted even though the individuals had been warned at least once and in Chris’ case multiple times. All three bothered me, but had to be done.

Did I lose sleep over them. No. It wasn’t because I was unfeeling about it. I cared a lot. But there are many unpleasant things we have to deal with in life. If we let every one of them bother us to the point of losing sleep, we are in big trouble. And not dealing with them could and would cause bigger problems which could lead to loss of sleep or something even worse.

In conclusion, do not let firing someone cause you to Keep Awake at Night. If they are not doing what is expected of them even after being told then they have fired themselves. And if you do not let them go, you may bring about more and greater issues. They are what will keep you awake at night.

25 thoughts on “What Keeps You Awake at Night?”

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