When Is The Right Time To Let An Employee Go?

Navigating Employee Termination

Managing employee transitions is a part of a natural cycle within any organization. People come and go. Sometimes turnover is high (which likely means something needs to change internally) and other times it is slow and steady.

In our previous article, we focused on the importance of hiring the right employees. Today, we’re looking at the opposite side of the coin. Sometimes it becomes necessary to let go of individuals who are not meeting expectations. We are going to analyze when to provide second chances to an employee, the challenges of letting someone go, and equip you with other tools for parting ways. By embracing these principles, managers can turn employee transitions into valuable learning experiences and foster a culture of growth and success for the future.

Identify A Concern

Common Signs To Indicate Further Action

Terminating an employee should always be approached as a last resort. Before you make the difficult decision to let someone go, begin by identifying the concerns on your own and then addressing the issue directly with your employee. Often you’ll find your individuals are willing to make changes and these concerns may resolve naturally. Below we have listed some of the most common signs that indicate further action is needed:

Consistently poor performance – when an employee consistently fails to meet job expectations

Violation of company policies – disregarding company policies or procedures

Insubordination – unwilling to follow instructions, or a disregard for authority

Lack of improvement or unwillingness to learn – lack of interest in learning or adapting to new processes or an unwillingness to grow professionally

Decline in productivity – results are being produced less efficiently

Dejected attitude – employee displays lack of enthusiasm

Second (or third) Chances

Potential Reasons For Poor Behavior

Logically speaking, it is a better use of time and resources to work with your existing team and provide opportunities for improvement and growth. It is expensive, both in money and time, to hire new employees. On a more heartfelt note, it is simply the right thing to do. Most people are eager to do well. With communication and guidance, change can happen for the better. It is also possible that someone may be ignorant of their error, and all it takes is putting some attention to righting a wrong. We have to recognize that there is a reason that employees are not performing up to par.

In the above paragraph we gave you a list that may be the first signs that an employee is struggling and, without improvement, may be terminated. Here is that same list with a potential reason for your employee’s behavior:

Consistently poor performance – inadequate training and resources

Violation of company policies – feels a code/policy is unfair

Insubordination – does not trust their leader has their best interests in mind; cares only about the business

Lack of improvement or unwillingness to learn – cannot see a future for themselves at the business

Decline in productivity – feels overworked and underpaid

Dejected attitude – decline in job satisfaction and happiness of daily tasks

We have some good news for you: every single thing on this list can be addressed. You cannot make something better by ignoring it. Only when you and your team are able to isolate an issue can you take the steps to a resolution that benefits everyone.

What is the value of providing a second chance?

It’s important to note that providing a second chance should be accompanied by clear communication, performance expectations, and support mechanisms. Managers should offer guidance, coaching, and resources to help the struggling employee succeed in their role. However, it’s also crucial to set realistic expectations and have a plan in place if improvement is not achieved, despite the second chance. 

Here are a few things you can do to create a more proactive atmosphere and overcome poor behaviors:

Providing Opportunities for Improvement: Clearly communicate your concerns, set performance goals, and offer support and resources to help them succeed. This could include additional training, mentoring, or coaching sessions tailored to address specific areas of improvement. 

Open Communication: To give employees the best chance to succeed, ensure they have the ability to speak with you openly. Ask them what they need and be open to their critique. It will foster more respect and trust. If they feel something is unfair, is there a way it can be adjusted? If we are asking for our employees to change, we have to be open to change too.

Teamwork: Implement performance feedback mechanisms, or assigning a mentor or buddy to guide and support them. By equipping employees with the tools they need, you create an environment that fosters growth and continuous improvement.

A Better Business: Build an environment where people want to work. How a team is treated will impact their quality of work. If someone feels undervalued, offer encouragement and words of gratitude. If someone feels underpaid, consider a raise, bonus, or other financial incentives. Keep your office space clean and comfortable. A positive atmosphere will be more productive than a negative space.

The Hard Part

Parting Ways

This is the hard part. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who “likes” the act of firing an employee. Even when it becomes clear that it is the best option moving forward, it is a difficult, sometimes emotional, conversation. 

Recognizing When Change Is Not Happening: Despite providing opportunities and support, there may be instances where an employee is unable or unwilling to make the necessary improvements. It is essential for managers to recognize when change is not happening and evaluate the impact on the overall team dynamics and customer experiences. Continuous underperformance can have a detrimental effect on morale and productivity.


The Art of Letting Go: When it becomes clear that parting ways is the best solution for both the employee and the organization, handle the process with care and professionalism. Schedule a private meeting to discuss the decision, clearly articulate the reasons, and provide any relevant documentation or feedback. Show empathy and offer support during this difficult time, ensuring a respectful and dignified exit for the employee. Close your conversation with acknowledgment and gratitude for their work.

Learning and Moving Forward: Employee transitions, including separations, can be learning opportunities for both the manager and the organization. Reflect on the experience, analyze any underlying factors that contributed to the situation, and identify areas for improvement in the hiring and management processes. Use this knowledge to refine recruitment strategies, enhance training programs, and develop stronger performance management systems.

When You Shouldn’t Wait

The Red Card

While we hope no one ever has to experience a “red card” situation, it is good to be aware of the possibility. It’s uncommon, however sometimes a certain behavior crosses a line where a second chance is not viable and immediate termination is the best way to protect the integrity of your team and business. It can be a delicate topic, not one in which people often like to discuss, so we will keep this list brief:

Dishonesty or integrity issues: When an employee displays a pattern of dishonesty, such as falsifying records, lying, or even theft, it may be best for this person to be dismissed.

Severe misconduct or gross negligence: Instances of severe misconduct, such as harassment, violence, substance abuse, or cases of gross negligence that jeopardize the safety of others or the organization may warrant immediate termination.

Negative attitude and toxic behavior: When an employee consistently displays a negative attitude, engages in toxic behavior, makes sexist, racist, or other slurs to coworkers or even clients, requires termination.

Moving Forward

We Can Help

Navigating employee transitions, including letting go of underperforming employees, is a challenging aspect of managing a team – no matter the industry you work in. When you provide opportunities, you’re not only allowing your team the chance to improve, but improving yourself as well. Critical thinking will help to recognize when change is not happening, guiding us to handle the separation process with kindness and professional integrity. 

Employee transitions should be approached with empathy, fairness, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Through these efforts, managers can reinforce the importance of employee loyalty.

We want to support you while you navigate all the emotionally draining moments. We’re here for all of it. Join us in our Power Group, Office Heroes, to find a community of support.