Nobody enjoys terminating someone else's employment

I am thrilled that Bob Smith is a former colleague of mine. You will be lucky if you can get him to work for you. Whatever job you are hiring for, no one would be better for the job than Bob. I would encourage you not to waste any time in making this candidate an offer of employment. I really can’t say enough good things about Bob or recommend him too highly. Bob worked for the company for 10 years and when he left we were very satisfied.
Variations of the above letter of reference can be found throughout the internet. I claim no authorship. Do you have an employee like Bob? How long have you been putting up with him? More importantly, why is Bob still your employee?
The answer is likely two-fold; courage and money. Nobody actually enjoys terminating somebody else’s employment. Only the most twisted wake up with a smile on their face and say to themselves, “I get to fire somebody today.”
Bob is, after all, already trained and you’ve put up with him for so long that he has a repository of a lot of company knowledge that can be beneficial if you can get him to use it. Bob is not nasty, he is just not productive. You know his family and the thought of ending their livelihood is unpleasant.
You know that for the same money you could get twice as much work out of a new employee if you just faced the pain of the termination and training a new employee. It is not lost on you that other employees are perfectly aware of how little Bob does and probably decide on many occasions not to put in that extra effort because obviously anything they do is better than what Bob contributes. The company doesn’t seem to care either way. You know that they resent the extra work they have to do as a result of Bob’s turtle-like pace.
And then there is the money. You know that as bad an employee as Bob is, you are still going to have to pay a severance. How can you claim just cause and pay no severance when you have been putting up with the behavior for years? Given Bob’s ten years of service, severance can be very expensive and you would have to budget for it out of a slim profit margin.
Every three months or so you have a very serious think about letting Bob go but all of the above inevitably dissuades you and you naively hope that a miracle will happen and that Bob will change.
Few employers sit down and analyze the other side of the financial puzzle. Yes, terminating Bob will cost some money in the short term. The more important question is, how much profit is he costing you as each year of mediocrity goes by? How much stress is he causing you as your frustrations simmer and stew month after month, year after year? How many extra hours are you paying other employees to compensate for Bob’s lack of productivity?
Often, when you start to add all these things up, the cost of terminating Bob starts to look less intimidating.
I often get calls from employers who want assistance in terminating their Bob. They recite to me their list of complaints. When I ask how long it’s been like this, the employer says for as long as they can remember. Often years have gone by and now Bob is a 15-year employee. The severance package is going to be that much more expensive as a result of the procrastination.
Back to the reference letter, “Bob got along very well with his colleagues and could often be found socializing with them when not at his desk at all times of the day. Bob was very precise about his time-keeping and never failed to punch out when his shift ended. Every hour for Bob was a happy hour, we often found him loaded with work to do.”
As published in the Hamilton Spectator, July 12, 2010
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809