This week’s question comes from Max, who asks, I have an employee that is too good at his position. So good that he often finishes his tasks with plenty of on-the-clock time to spare. The problem is he then takes that spare time and plays video games, which is a waste of company resources and doing everything in his power not to help other employees get there work done more efficiently. The next day, he will happily take on the task of fixing the mistakes of others that get put in the top of his queue, but when he clears his queue, back to video games. He’s oddly likable but very hard to work with. Do I need to fire him?
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When I first read this question, I thought it was going to be a variation of the Rock Star Employee problem that I talk about often with companies, and have produced two episodes on the subject, being Episode #12 asking, ‘Why Are My Employees Not Getting Their Work Done?’ and Episode #33 asking, “Can You Go Too Far In Worshiping Your Rock Star Employees?”
So I am happy not to have to address this topic directly again. But if any listeners start to hear a ring of familiar, it’s because some other effects of Rock Star Employee syndrome do apply in this case. As do a few other themes I have discussed within this podcast.
The question you have is about firing one particular employee. There are a few issues that have to be determined before you can answer, for yourself, which way to proceed. Each has its own problems and concerns that must be worked out once you come to your final decision.
First, are you in an at-will work state? Per the Wikipedia, “At-will employment is a term used in U.S. labor law for contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason and without warning, as long as the reason is not illegal.”
That translate to not needing an actual cause or documentation for the decision of termination and the firing is not based on touchy topics like the employee’s race, religion, or gender that will get you sued. Otherwise, an employee dismissed from a position without a good reason and plenty of documentation will have a good case against you. Regardless of how bad of an employee they may be.
If you do not operate in an at-will work state and you do not have detailed documentation on the issues you’re having with the troubled employee, start your documentation now. This offers you a detailed analysis of what your employee is doing wrong in the case where he has to be fired.
But first, it offers you a detailed analysis of what your employee is doing wrong so that you can talk with him about what he can do to improve.
You will have to counsel him on his problems and come up with a plan to make progress. Of course, he could decide to quit after the first counseling session, which may be fine, assuming he doesn’t come back and sue that he feared he was being forced out. But let’s assume that you both enter in a good-natured plan for improvement after session one.
The problems I can ascertain from your question are: 1) he’s too efficient at his current task level and workload and is getting bored, 2) he’s not exactly team player material, and 3) there may be a touch of ‘that boy ain’t right’ when it comes to workplace etiquette and manners in general.
For problem number one: figure out if there is something you can do about his actual workload that could slow down his pace. Since he is getting it done so quickly, he’s obviously good at what you are giving him to do. Maybe there is something else he can do that is up to his level. Maybe there are some additional duties he can take over as a standard addition to his main responsibility, not just clean-up work for what others can’t complete.
For problem number two: make sure you start your documentation of conduct and have some preliminary ideas of what you want your employee to do to make the situation right because this might be your route to dismissal. You will have to deliver the message that his actions and attitude are not acceptable. Obviously, you will have to limit his access to playing video games (and he shouldn’t have had any aces in the first place). You will have to lay the grown work for what is expected and how quickly you expect him to get there, and the carrots or consequences of success or failure. If you feel like he has the potential, dangle the idea of a promotion to manager, supervisor, or analyst. If you don’t think its possible (or are pretty sure this is a formality for pushing him out), then don’t.
For problem number three: you will have to want to get to know him because this will take some serious effort and may change your mind about your employee. Maybe he is just . . . a little off. I have worked with people who are high functioning autistic (and I suspect I might be myself), and they are some for the hardest workers who want to do nothing but please you. But you can’t have a normal conversation with them because they are . . . a little off. If this is the bulk of your issue with your employee, and it will take a good bit of time to come to this conclusion, you will want to work with him to help him with his duties to effectively keep him busy. If the problem is not some sort of real mental disability, but a total lack of willingness to just be social and polite, you’ve probably already have enough cause for termination. Consult human resources or your legal counsel if available, and make sure the paperwork is taken care of with zero errors.
A little late, but the disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Resource Management. I have worked at some level of management since I was a teenager. I do not work for you, or any of the ‘listeners.’ Therefore, I am not your lawyer, HR director, or manager of your company.
This Week’s Business Questions Asked Here: Do You Have A Process For Documenting Poor Employee Performan? (answer in the comments)
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