Releasing an Employee for Less Obvious Offenses

One of the hardest decision a leader makes is to release someone from employment. I’ve only known a few very callous people who weren’t extremely bothered by having to fire someone. Making any kind of employment decision comes with the sobering reality, regardless of what the person did wrong, that the decision will likely impact others who are many times innocent in the offense.

I’ve heard good leaders say repeatedly that we should “hire slow” and “fire fast”, but that’s much easier to say than it is to do.

When the offense is clear, due proces has been given and every reasonable attempt to restore has been exhausted as a leader, we must make the right decision for the good of everyone involved. Most leaders agree with that statement. Even as hard as it is to make.

If someone is a thief
If someone consistently lies
If someone is blatantly lazy

Those aren’t easy decisions, and due process, fairness, and grace still play a part, but they are often easier to clarify what needs to happen.

One of the harder decisions for me (and other leaders I’ve spoken to), but one I’ve had to make numerous times, is when I have to release someone for less obvious offenses. They aren’t black and white issues.

Sometimes it’s not for the offense but for the integrity of the organization that is at stake when employment decisions need to be made. And, many leaders miss these, because they are more difficult to clarify. (By the way, I’m writing this in an organizational sense, but this includes churches too.)

Years ago, I had someone on my team who was a tremendous producer. One of our best. He could sell anything. In a strictly bottom line — on paper sense, he made the company money. But, it was some of the external, not as easy to define aspects of his employment that made him a poor fit for the team. (He was disrespectful, never attended meetings, bad-mouthed the company, etc.)

It was hard to lose a top performer, but there were larger issues at stake.

Here are a few examples of situations I have personally experienced or walked through with other leaders.

1. The person has lost all credibility with the team. This is could be with peers, a team he or she leads, or with volunteers (this is especially true of volunteers). At this point the energy trying to repair their relationships would be too overwhelming. Everyone else is wondering why you haven’t moved sooner to make a hard decision. Sometimes it’s best for everyone if we simply start with a clean slate.

2. The person refuses to support the overall vision. They may have the skills to be outstanding, but their attitude causes them to serve as more of a cancer to the team than an asset.

3. The person has “left the building” in terms of wanting to move on to something else, so they no longer give any heart for the job. And, everyone knows it. It’s bringing down the morale and work ethic of the rest of the team.

There are others, but hopefully you get my point. Again, hard decisions. Not always easy to define.

But, making the right decision protects the integrity of the organization, the teams involved, and, often, the ability of the team to respect your leadership.

Do you have a hard decision you need to make these days? It won’t be easy. It may even be a temporary setback for the team. But, your credibility and success as a leader may depend on the quality of decision you make.

What are your “last straws” that cause you to release someone?

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6 thoughts on “Releasing an Employee for Less Obvious Offenses

  1. I was asked to leave the campus staff of one of the largest multisite churches in the US after enduring one if the most hostile work environments I’d ever been subject to. I lost friends and years of leadership equity due to poor leadership at the campus level. They used reason #1 to let me go. I then watched as over the next three years as this ‘team’ of staff & leadership volunteers devolved into a series of disgraceful scandals…we lost two campus pastors in a row to adultery and divorce, one of which resulted in a child born out of wedlock. They were right. I was absolutely not a good fit for that team.

    • You were on the opposite side of this post. Looks like God was protecting you. It may trigger another post. I won't, of course, use your specific story.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  2. ” I’ve only known a few very callous people who weren’t extremely bothered by having to fire someone. ”

    I guess I am one of those people. When people stole, lied or consistently didn’t perform it was a relief for me and the team when they were finally let go.

    Wasn’t happy about it at all but felt a combination of sadness and anger. Wish there were alternatives but they had sealed their fate.

    But now I could devote more energy in positive / forward activities instead of mopping up and covering. That get’s “old” very, very fast.

    • Thanks for your comment. Certainly there's a feeling of freedom in the release, but even when someone stole once, and needed to be released, I was still bothered for the person's family. They were innocent in what they had to endure. That's what I meant. It always impacts more than just one person. Plus, Jesus tended to extend grace — even to the criminals. Truth and grace — they still face consequences, but that doesn't mean I can't be sad they put themselves into a bad situation.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson