Article Date: 8/1/2002

business advisor
Unhappily Ever After?
Here's what to do when faced with firing an employee.
Jerry Hayes, O.D.

When managing employees, you usually encounter three basic types:

1. the highly competent (who makes you look good)

2. the bad or dishonest (whom you get rid of quickly)

3. the mediocre (who fall somewhere in the middle).

Of these types, the mediocre employee can really bog you down. She's not terrible enough to fire outright, yet certainly not good enough to promote. If you have this type of employee working in your office, don't feel discouraged because you don't have to live unhappily ever after.

If a staff member is underperforming and she's not changing her ways, then it's your job as the practice owner to let her go so you can hire someone who's going to give your patients the quality care they deserve. Just make sure you take the right approach to terminating an unfit employee.

Try to remedy the situation

Here are the steps you should take when you find yourself unhappy with a marginal employee.

First and foremost, document your concerns about the employee. Keep written notes in the employee's file noting when she's late, when she fails to conform to the office dress codes or when she doesn't handle patients the way you've instructed her to.

Next, have a one-on-one discussion with the employee to make sure you're both on the same page in terms of expectations for job performance, attitude in the office and relationships with coworkers. This exercise actually "cures" a small percentage of underachievers.

When you have your talk, give honest feedback. Don't try being nice and pretending that nothing's wrong or that you're happy with her performance if you're not.

I believe that employer's have an obligation to tell an employee if a raise, promotion or even if her job is in jeopardy because of something she's doing or not doing.

Be specific with your complaints. Don't assume that a marginal employee knows that it bothers you when she's 15 minutes late three times a week -- tell her.

When you've done all you can

You'll even find that some established employees don't meet your standards and that you have to terminate them.

Unfortunately, being direct and honest doesn't work with everyone, but it's also not a good idea to silently put up with an employee's incompetence until you finally boil over and one day announce to him in your office that you're firing him. That's stressful and creates a potential legal liability.

Letting them go the right way

When I need to replace an employee, I meet with her in private to calmly inform her that she hasn't resolved the problems we've discussed to my satisfaction and that it's time for her to resign. I usually give an employee 1 to 4 weeks of severance pay (based on how long she's worked for me) and a promise not to tell anyone I fired her if she provides a letter of resignation.

For me, this is the point of no return. If the employee chooses not to resign, then I advise her that she is terminated immediately based on documented performance issues.

Keep it on the level

Terminations are never easy. But once it's clear that a staffer doesn't have a future in your practice, it's best for both parties if you part ways. The key is being honest with poor performers before you decide to let them go. You haven't done a good job as a boss if you surprise someone when you ask her to seek employment elsewhere.



Optometric Management, Issue: August 2002