What To Do When HR Will Not Let You Fire An Employee

What To Do When HR Will Not Let You Fire An Employee

“True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job anyhow, that's what courage is.”

~Norman Schwarzkopf

I recently spoke at another great facilities leadership workshop. While at lunch a department leader at a major university shared, he had some weeds in his department; employees who refused to buy-in, work together or produce the results he needed. He felt helpless in his own department. He said HR would not let him fire them. He was frustrated.

We have heard the term, “the fog of war.” When soldiers describe the uncertainty in the situational awareness experienced during a battle. I listened to this manager tell me why he could not address the issues and why he felt, with time, the employee might come to their senses and become a good employee. Although I have never served in the military, the term, “the fog of work,” seems to fit his situation. He was so close to the situation they could not see a way out and felt the HR department was of no help. The department leader seemed beaten down, confused and was obviously just hoping one day it might suddenly get better on its own.

It is never easy leading others. Holding people accountable is always hard and it does not get easier. In this case, the deficiencies happened daily, and the manager was losing perspective on the situation leading them to fall into a false since of hope. The fog of day-to-day operations can cloud a manager’s better judgement. The problem is not the troublesome employee, or Human Resources, it’s the manager of the department.

It takes courage to do what is right, honest, and fair. It takes putting ones need to be liked aside and find a willingness to face the challenge, to do the hard work needed for a department to get better, but it is worth it.

First the manager must be willing to give clear expectations and direction. This is not a time for soft leadership. Being passive about dealing with poor behavior brings down team moral, especially with your top players. Everyone will begin to question a managers leadership ability, wondering whether they can trust the leader’s judgement. Second, the leader should document the performance – good or bad. Don’t wait for HR to get involved and don’t ask for their help when you know what is needed.  Document because it can make or break your ability to terminate or discipline later. It takes courage to do what is right. I have never met a manager who regretted documenting everything before the situation grew worse.

Give people the opportunity to get better and hold them accountable. Most organizations that have a top-quality work environment, work to build a positive culture, usually one where staff are learning and growing. Work culture depends on the leaders at every level.  Most mangers don’t feel comfortable growing a culture because it’s tough and takes courage. Most have not had training in how to do it, so it is much easier to deal with work orders, emails, ordering parts or anything other than clearly articulating expectations and documenting the results.

Everything depends on leaders at all levels, all the time, in all circumstances.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”~Nelson Mandela

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