Dealing with a difficult employee is one of the more challenging aspects of running a business. It’s a subject that many of my clients have struggled with over the years. Firing an employee should be considered a last resort, as it means that you’ve lost out on the investment you’ve made into training that employee, and it means you’ll have to spend time and money training a replacement. Here are three steps to take before you consider firing a difficult employee:

1) Define your expectations and let him know where he or she is falling short.When you have an under-performing employee, the first thing to do is sit down and talk through the issues. Let him or her know that they aren’t living up to expectations and ask if there is anything that you can do to help them meet your standards.

2) Do your best to re-energize. Often, employee performance begins to decrease because they’ve lost interest in their job. To turn this around, make an attempt to re-engage them. If they feel like their talents aren’t being utilized in their current position, consider adjusting their job description to allow them to spend more time doing what they are best at.

3) Keep a close eye on the problem. Once an employee has begun to underperform, you need to monitor the situation closely. It’s possible for one “bad apple” to sabotage the morale of an entire team, and this is something that you can’t afford. Once you’ve spoken to the employee about their performance, you need to see clear improvement or you simply can’t keep them around.

If you’ve done your best to turn around employee performance but have not succeeded, it’s probably time to cut your losses.  If you’re not sure, ask yourself these questions:

1) Does the employee respect you?  If not, it’s time to let them go.  You can turn around poor performance and you can resolve personal conflicts, but it’s very difficult to make a disrespectful employee respectful.

2) Does the employee care about the job?  If he or she does care, you can almost certainly find a way to turn things around.  But if not, there’s nothing you can do besides cut ties. It’s impossible to get through to somebody who just doesn’t care.

3) Does he or she have the resources needed to succeed?  If not, firing them will not solve your problems. Evaluate the work environment and decide if you need to make changes to ensure that your employee(s) can succeed.

4) Do you trust the employee?  If you’re not sure that an employee can be trusted, it’s time to let them go. Trust is critical to building a winning team.

Over my years working with small business owners, I have found that about 80% of the time the cause of an employee problem actually rests with the manager: the manager hired the wrong person, didn’t train them properly, didn’t provide adequate direction, or didn’t provide adequate resources. So, if you think you need to terminate an employee, make sure you’ve done everything you can to save the situation first.  Hiring and training a new employee is an expensive and time-consuming task that you should avoid if possible!

Have you ever had to terminate an employee? How did you know when it was time to do so? Did you learn anything from that experience that you’d like to share with our readers? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!