I am the manager of an administrative team of seven people plus myself. Next year I am going to have to lay off one of my people for poor performance and inability to work as independently as the job requires. She’s been informed of her poor performance but doesn’t seem to understand that we are serious.
She has been in this position for about six years. Because of rules in our state institution, we are required to give her at least three months notice. We are allowed the option of moving her to a different position once she has received notice, but we don’t have any other position open at this time. Sending her home and paying her for three months isn’t an option. She can certainly leave earlier if she gets another job, but I can’t count on that happening.
My question is, what is the best way to work with the rest of the team, who will definitely be shocked and surprised and unhappy that she is being let go? Her performance issues aren’t evident to them. I can’t cite budget issues because we will actually be hiring two people to replace her (each will handle half of her job and take other duties as well). I’m reluctant to tell them that her performance is poor, because that seems, well, pretty nasty, like kicking someone when they are down.
I really don’t want the rest of the team feeling like their jobs are in jeopardy, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to keep going for three months with her still working there knowing she is leaving. Any advice on how to handle this?
First of all, I don’t like using the term layoff for someone who is being terminated for performance reasons. It makes people leery of hiring people who were terminated for no fault of their own. But, that’s neither here nor there.
I hate terminations with advanced notice. I’m of the “today is your last day” philosophy for precisely the reasons you outlined. It’s hard for someone in that position to come in. The co-workers don’t know what to make of it and it makes for a tough time for everyone. I much prefer payment in lieu of notice.
But, as you said, that’s not an option here. First of all, if you don’t think she’s aware of how serious you are, do you don’t have her on a formal performance improvement plan? If not, put her on one now. She needs to be totally aware. (Now, truth me told there are times in which you will tell an employee, “If you are late to work/miss an assignment/swear at Bob one more time you will be terminated.” And then when the employee does just that they are in utter disbelief. But that doesn’t seem like the case here.)
You seem to think that her co-workers will have no idea that her performance is low. I seriously doubt it. They suspect it. And if she has friends at the office, she’s talked with them about the performance meetings you’ve held with her.
I think you are absolutely correct in informing her co-workers. Rumors are always worse then the truth. Notify her of her impending termination, with a clear statement of her last day of work. (And please be clear that this her LAST DAY OF WORK. “March 15, 2010 will be your last day of work. You will be terminated as of end of day on March 15.” You’d be surprised at how many people don’t process the fact that they are actually being terminated if you are not absolutely clear.) Then have a meeting with the rest of the staff. “Stephanie is going to be leaving us. Her last day of work will be March 15, 2010. We wish her well. The nature of the job duties are changing and we will be recruiting new people for the department.”
Yes, you’ll be asked a bunch of questions, none of them relevant. Stephanie will tell them all that you’re a big meanie who is firing her for no good reason. But, don’t stoop to the level of trying to justify your decision.
Now, one more thought before you terminate. If her co-workers truly don’t suspect, it means that she’s doing at least an adequate job in many areas. I don’t know what her problems are, but if it’s a case of non-willful non-performance, have you thought about dividing the job responsibilities now, giving Stephanie responsibilities for the things that she does well and hiring someone else for the remaining responsibilities?
It takes a lot of work to bring people up to the same level as someone with 6 years of experience in the organization. I have no idea what her issues are, but this may be something to think about.
You also mention that she will be looking for another job (duh!) but I kind of got the feeling you meant internally. If this is the case, please, please, please be honest with the potential manager about her inadequacies. Please do not play the “shuffle the bad employee” game. It is a bad game with no winners.