Why You Hate Firing An Employee, And How To Deal With It

By Bob Phibbs

retail employee management sales
My parents divorced when I was 11. For a long time I felt there was something I could have done to have prevented it.

That I had some magical power to change the circumstances.  I guess it is common in children of divorce. 

The feeling that the past could somehow have been different.

Life has taught me that letting go and acknowledging what is leads to a more productive life.

I have a quiz on my site, Is It Time To Fire This Employee? It is a popular quiz and from the thousands of submissions over the years, the responses stay pretty much the same.

While the five most common reasons responders cite for wanting to get rid of a team member are:

  • Attitude (Bad, rotten, rude, negative)
  • Doesn’t listen (To supervisors, to customers, to other workers)
  • Lazy
  • Sales (low, missing goals, can’t close)
  • Miss too much work (for a variety of reasons)

Only 35% of managers give the offender at least one written performance review:

fire an employee

Even when a manager knows that the work relationship’s not working, they don’t do anything to fix it.

Usually because of fear.

Fear that the worker will be upset, or cause a scene.

But the real reason more retail managers don’t give performance reviews, and much less fire their underperformers, is their fear of rejection.

Let me explain…

When you hire a new team member, you expect to bond with them. They are satisfying a need you have – not just as a salesperson but also as someone you look forward to working with.

Your energy and theirs are a match.

And as time goes by, those energies should grow so that you both begin to trust each other and truly enjoy working together; just like in any relationship.

Yet when the associate doesn’t do their job, or doesn’t treat you with respect, you feel as rejected as a lover.

In some ways, it hurts because you trusted them to do the job and they either can’t or don’t want to.

But the longer you turn a blind eye to their behavior, the more it will hurt you and your sales.

Here’s how to handle it:

When you know the relationship is not working out, write a performance review. 

Be brutally honest.  First with yourself, especially if thinking of potentially firing this team member is tearing you up inside.

Is it the associate's back-story that is bothering you?

Do you sympathize with their situation so you’re willing to accept their excuses?

None of that can matter. Give at least one performance review (my preference would be 2 at most), then if you don’t see the results you’re looking for, you must fire them, no matter how hard it is.

I had a woman literally call me in tears because she couldn’t bear the thought of firing her best friend; she hoped that I would do it for her.

Instead of focusing on any of that, I want you to focus on cutting the bond you feel you are breaking.

Sit in a chair and take several deep breaths. See your associate.

If you are really fond of the person – not the performance – see yourself holding hands or maybe a piece of rope, or maybe see a bolt of energy between the two of you. The important thing is to visualize a physical connection between you and this employee.

Once you have that picture in your head, see the employee  - not you - releasing their hand.

Or see the employee cutting the rope or stopping the energy bolt on their side.

It is important you realize that they severed the relationship, not you.

When you can see that, it’s time for that conversation.  

This is the final straw. Keep it quick, short and to the point. Remain standing. Have their check already prepared. Simply hand it to them and say, “Your services are no longer needed.”

Start The "Should I Fire This Employee Quiz?"

In Sum

It is never easy to leave a relationship. Too many times we don’t acknowledge that we have a relationship with all of our team at some level.

When they can’t or won’t perform to your standards…

When you’ve trained them to be able to meet or exceed your standards…

And they haven’t –  employee performance management means it is up to you to help them move on.

I once had to fire a guy on Christmas Eve. Was it easy? No. Did I enjoy it? No.  

When he yelled back to me across a crowded store, “Merry F)(*ing Christmas” was it hard to hear? Of course.

I do have a heart. 

But I knew he would go on to do something he really wanted to do.  I am happy to tell you now, twenty-five years later, that he is an executive working on the Ellen show.

What would have happened if I hadn’t seen more harm in keeping him than in helping him move on?

Who knows,  but one thing is clear, if I hadn’t separated the friend from the performance, he might never have gotten to where he was supposed to be.

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