Simone’s OncOpinion

Career development observations and advice for medical professionals from Dr. Joseph V. Simone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Firing an Employee

If you are in a leadership position, you will undoubtedly face the unpleasant issue of whether to fire an employee. If the employee has been coached and several chances have been given, they may be incompetent or, worse, troublemakers. What you must not do is transfer them to another area because they most likely will continue to be incompetent or troublemakers. They force others to pick up the slack or repair their mistakes, reducing everyone’s efficiency.


If this continues for long, those that are consistently unproductive may become the majority because the competent learn that the institution sees no virtue in hard work and collaboration. As difficult as it may be, the best solution for all parties is to fire the individual. This is true even though one often must deal with unrealistically positive evaluations of the past, complicated and unpleasant grievance procedures, bureaucratic barriers, and the unpleasantness of confrontation.


I have been burned several times on this issue and have developed some safeguards. For non-faculty, at the hiring interview I usually tell them that the job may not work out because of them, because of me, or just because of bad chemistry. Therefore if I must terminate them, it is a bit easier for both of us. If possible, it is best to do this in the probationary period. With faculty it is more complicated. There may be contracts or understandings and a person’s whole career to consider along with all the other issues noted above. One can begin with the same approach described above -- i.e. coaching and second and third chances.


There is another important possibility to consider when deciding about letting someone go. Are they simply a bad fit for the job they were hired to do? I didn’t realize this until an underperforming lab technician, a recent college graduate, came to my office one day saying she knew she wasn’t doing well and she felt she wasn’t suited for the job. I realized that explanation might account for many underperformers. In that case, both the institution and the employee are responsible for the situation. She resigned and her record indicated she was a very hard worker, but the job and she were just not suited for one another.


This also happens with faculty. The job may have fit well at the beginning, but despite the person’s hard work and perseverance, the requirements for continued productivity grew but the person was unable to compete at that higher level. In that case, the person and the institution are better off if he/she moves on.


My experience with several cases like this is that the faculty member usually gets a better job at higher pay because the new job is a better fit for their current skills. Those individuals did not return to thank us for firing them, of course, even though they were much better off in their careers. That is the best outcome!