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Parting Ways:
The Painful Struggle to Let Employees Go

By Dr. Russ Ouellette, DM

While William Shakespeare may not have been an employer, there may never be truer words spoken than when the bard said, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

At some point in an employer's journey, he or she will no doubt be faced with a defining leadership moment where the question will be asked, "Should I let him go?" This is a defining moment because it is ultimately the leader who must make the decision. Human resource professionals and staff members can provide the data, trends and needs for the future, but the decision is one of struggle and reflection for the person with the final call.

This question has taken on significantly more prominence these days with the national unemployment rate approaching 10 percent and New Hampshire hovering at the 7 percent mark.

But behind the statistics and the changing economic landscape lie those nagging questions that must be answered for an organization to survive challenging times: Who should be let go? Who should be on the team and why?

To answer these questions, we must first look at the prime responsibility of the organizational leader – to move the company forward on a path to success. To do so, the leader must develop a growth strategy for each employee, and in some cases, that means moving that employee to another job…maybe even another company or vocation.

The truth is, while developing a plan for employees, the fact remains that not everyone is ready or cares about evolving to a higher level of performance and this can lead to a destructive erosion of work quality and company morale. It's difficult to move an organization forward toward a growth strategy when there is a high level of frustration due to an employee who doesn't fit in or refuses to progress in their role. This frustration can only be alleviated by educating motivated staff, changing roles and replacing nonproductive employees with new talent that you need right now for success.

Along the way, it's important to remember these important truisms about company downsizings:

Letting "problem employees" go helps your organization – To enable problem employees to be unhappy and a corrosive influence in the workplace brings your motivated employees down and sends a message to your company and customers that you don't care.

It hurts employees to keep them when they don't fit – People sometimes start a career with great expectations only to find themselves in a situation where they have lost their passion and need to reenergize their career.

It's getting harder for smaller and growing companies to hide people – In a larger firm, people can easily be hidden away in jobs that allow them to avoid notice and just exist. However, in smaller firms, there is nowhere to hide and other, more productive employees witness and have to participate in the maneuvering around.

At the end of the day, when faced with an employee who is clearly not the right fit for your organization, it's always a great rule for a leader to ask: What would I want for myself? If I had clearly checked out of a job and were frustrated, what would I want my employer to do? I think that if we're truly being honest with ourselves, the most difficult decision might be the best decision not only for the company but for the employee as well. Parting might be sweet sorrow in the short term but in the long term, it might lead to a fulfilling journey that might never have gotten started otherwise.

Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.

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