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Our workplaces today are full of kind, hard-working and well intentioned managers who are don’t realise that they are actually being cruel to some of their staff.

They are allowing individuals who are clearly unsuccessful in results and attitude to remain, unchallenged, in their workplaces.

why not firing an under-performing member of staff is cruel
why not firing an under-performing member of staff is cruel

Many believe it to be too hard, too difficult and legally dangerous to do anything else. ‘It is impossible to fire someone with over two years’ service’ is a common held misconception which is costing the economy, organisations, and the reputation of the managers and individuals dear.

Sue Ingram, author of ‘FIRE WELL – How to fire staff so they thank you’ believes that letting an individual stay unchallenged where it is obvious they are failing is the cruellest non-action a manager can take.  Slowly, over time the individual’s confidence and self-worth will erode leading them in a downward spiral that they may find very difficult to climb out off.

boiling-frogIngram suggests this crazy situation of ignoring poor performance is created because:

  • People do not see themselves as others see them.  We want to come across in a certain way and, as we so rarely receive feedback about how we actually show up, we continue to believe that we are behaving as we want to do.  The same is true of poor performing staff.  They want to do well and they think they are.  But if no-one takes the time to tell them otherwise they are left in the dark and perplexed as to why they are not progressing in their career.
  • A slow decline. Remember the parable of the frog in the boiling water? This explains why people stay in jobs for which they are clearly unsuited and why managers never get around to providing the necessary feedback.   The situation deteriorates so slowly that for both parties it just becomes the way it is.  Often it is not until an outside person comes in and then calls the organisation on its way of behaving that it becomes apparent.
  • Difficult Conversations. These types of feedback conversations with under-performing staff are traditionally known as Difficult Conversations.  So naturally both managers and staff will look for reasons to avoid having the conversation.  And then, if the situation becomes untenable and a conversation is forced upon them, both will go in with the expectation of a difficult conversation leading to defensive / aggressive behaviour from one or both.

But it does not have to be this way.

It is possible to fire people and have them thank you for doing so.   Ingram suggests it starts with the manager being clear on the required outcome from the conversation; that the individual needs to become both happy and successful in their work.  If that is within their existing job great, but if this means that they leave to find a more suitable job role for them, then so be it.

Next the manager needs to learn how to present the feedback and necessary improvements in a calm and factual way, showing great respect for the individual and for any choices they may make.

Then the manager needs to follow the formal process all the way through to termination if that proves necessary.  UK employment law is actually simple, straightforward and does its job very well.  Remember to follow your formal processes to the letter, collate and record evidence and all informal and formal conversations, and act reasonably at all times.  It is that simple.


Be kind to your poor performing staff.  Conduct fair, considered, thoughtful and generous conversations where they are provided with the required feedback either to improve or to realise they are in the wrong job role for them.  Put them out of their misery.  Be generous, fire them and they are likely to thank you for doing so.

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