Hire Slow, Fire Fast: Managing Employees Post-Pandemic

Discover the negative effects of a toxic employee

Rules matter: When bad behavior goes unpunished, the entire team suffers.

In Part 2 of this series, we talked about A, B, and C players. A and B players drive the growth and prosperity of your business. C players keep the trains running on time. There is nothing wrong with C players; they are steady and reliable. Each type of employee plays a role in your organization. How they play that role determines whether they should stay.

Everyone is watching

If you are an executive at your organization, everyone knows who you are — children and strangers you may never meet know your name. Your employees talk about you at home, and their opinions of you are likely a 50/50 split. You are either a great manager or a great person — or you are awful at both.

This is nothing new. This has been happening since the dawn of time. Everybody complains about their boss, and every manager complains about their employees. However, the difference today is the effect social proof has on how people evaluate a company. LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder, and Monster all have an employee review section. This is where most companies lose their chance for A players. Poor ratings for a company can kill your chances at recruiting top talent.

Why good employees leave

According to a much-cited Gallup research poll, the top three reasons why employees leave:

  1. The immediate manager
  2. Poor fit to the job
  3. Coworkers not committed to quality

When bad employees leave, be happy. They save you the trouble of firing them. There is a certain percentage of employee turnover that can be expected at any company. When looking at the top three reasons given above, I believe all three of these can be combined into one single problem – the big boss is too busy to care, or they’re lazy. You know you are neither, but how might you be perceived by your people? They don’t value your words; they watch your actions.

Bad behavior unravels companies

The vast majority of employee turnover comes from people feeling the boss doesn’t care. Exhibit A: Bad behavior goes unpunished.

Ask any employee at a company with over 25 people, and they could identify a person that does not belong. Sometimes the answer to why they stick around is obvious. It could be a family member, job security like tenure or union membership, or an employment contract.

If you are reading this from Montana, you live in the only state with no at-will employment provisions. Every other state has some form of at-will employment rules that state you can leave a job at any time for any reason. It also means your employer can leave you at any time for any reason.

If the reasons are not clear, employees live in an information vacuum. IGI Global defines an information vacuum as a lack of information that may exacerbate and increase the severity of a crisis and may induce rumors and gossip.

A little rumor and gossip can keep things interesting but will eventually bring down an organization. As a leader, you must stay in touch by understanding what is going on at the ground level. If you can manage this well, your organization will thrive. Performance reviews and open dialogue with troubled team members are the easiest methods, but sometimes termination is necessary.

Fire quickly

The worst thing you can do for morale is keep a toxic employee. They will infect the culture, and people will see that their behavior is rewarded with continued employment. This can then spill over to your customer experience, leaving your customers wondering why this person is around.

Experts often cite research that shows onboarding costs are worth three months of salary. It is much harder to measure the effects of a toxic coworker. While you can easily calculate the time and effort of onboarding, it is tough to measure lost productivity costs due to toxicity.

Negative effects of a toxic employee

  1. Gossip: People waste time venting about this person. They spend time in the breakroom or on company chat services complaining about their behavior.
  2. Meetings are ineffective: Collaboration breaks down because nobody wants to work with this person.
  3. Safety: When communication breaks down, so do feelings of camaraderie and teamwork. People stop looking out for each other.
  4. Silos: People stick to their own work and start worrying about what they have direct control over; cross-departmental cooperation dries up.
  5. Poor customer experience: Employees take out their frustrations on customers.
  6. Sabotage: If an employee doesn’t have the means or the courage to leave your organization, they will start to undermine it as a form of vindication

The long-term repercussions of keeping a bad employee are much worse than the short-term pain of letting them go. Now, how you dismiss an employee also influences morale because it sets an example for others. If you don’t have an HR professional on staff, get up to speed on your state’s labor laws. Some at-will states have specific provisions around dismissal. If the employee breaks the rules or the law, it may seem very clear. If it was for performance or just a bad fit, you might consider a generous severance package. Remember, your people are watching you all the time.

Hire slowly

Given the current economic circumstances and the first two parts of this series, this may seem contradictory. If you need workers, you want to hire them quickly. If you don’t have the luxury of taking your time during the hiring process, consider investigating provisional employment regulations in your state, hiring the individual as a 1099 contractor, and utilizing a probationary period.

A probationary period can be between one month and a year. Probationary periods allow you to bring on new employees to confirm they are a good fit. You want to make sure you like them, and they like you. You also want to make sure they fit within their assigned team. In certain circumstances, probationary periods can be extended, though this may differ from state to state.

If your business is steady enough that you are concerned about how motivated your people are, congratulations. You are a great leader. You are also doing better than the 600,000 small businesses that close every year. People management is not easy. Running a business is not easy. Great employees make successful businesses. Great leaders make great employees.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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