Why the Difficult Employee Isn’t Being Fired


To start, this post isn’t about the common characteristics difficult employees share. This also isn’t a post about how to know whether or not you should fire an employee. What this post is about is why leaders don’t fire difficult employees even though they know they should. Donald Trump makes it look easy and swift. That’s not always the case.

Here are the most common themes I’ve found around why leaders don’t fire their problem employees. The employee:

  • has been with the company for years;
  • is the only one in the company who knows how to do specific tasks. Firing the employee means there is a body of work no one else in the company knows exists or how to complete;
  • is deeply entrenched in systems, processes, or finances. The leader perceives letting the employee go is far too much of a risk or liability to the company;
  • has close relationships with key clients or team members. The leader is too focused on the potential disruption to the team or business;
  • is unapproachable, dramatic, or negative. Therefore, the idea of a termination meeting is quite unsettling to the leader (if the employee gets upset about constructive improvement feedback, how might they react when they learn they’re being fired?)
  • is likened to a unicorn. The leader honestly believes it will be next to impossible to hire someone else to replace the employee.

But, these reasons don’t come close to the number one reason leaders don’t fire their difficult employees. The number one reason actually has to do with the leader than the employee. The reason? The leader has never fired someone before. The leader’s lack of firing experience is the reason an employee stays and the team, business, and company are negatively affected in the meantime.

Essentially, the unknown for the leader, meaning the “how” to fire an employee is too scary to confront. As a result, the difficult employee stays with the company for weeks, months, and even years.

Removing a difficult team member from an organization is just one key area of responsibility for a leader to overcome in order to take the team and business to the next level. Until that’s done, the leader essentially agrees to hold themselves and the team back. At that point, it has nothing to do with the challenges the difficult employee brings to the business and everything to do with the leader’s reluctance to fire the employee.

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to do the hard but right thing every single day.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to identify if you’re getting in your own way and the potential price you’re paying as a result.

– Jackie Simon

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