Over the past few weeks, I have had several conversations with leaders who are wrestling through what to do with a difficult team member during this crisis. In a more normal period of time time, the decision to let a person go from your team is often much more simple. But these are not normal times! In light of the COVID-19 crisis that we find ourselves in, Is it ok to terminate a person for cause or let a person go for reasons other than financial trouble? Perhaps you should have let this person go months ago but you did not act. Is it too late? Or perhaps the person is adding no benefit to your team anymore.
If, as a leader, you find yourself in this predicament, here are four principles during COVID-19 to guide your decision in dealing with a difficult team member.
1. Care For the Person First
This crisis has been difficult for nearly everyone. I’ve seen a lot of news articles on how to deal with depression and anxiety. I recently read that alcohol sales are up by 51% in the past four weeks! These are not routine times. Do not approach a difficult personnel issue without acknowledging the current crisis and how this is affecting people. A wise leader cares about people, not only business. I am not suggesting that you excuse bad behavior or laziness, but I am suggesting that you begin by acknowledging that to varying degrees these are difficult times for every person. You may be handling this crisis well, but others on your team may be struggling with debilitating anxiety that is affecting their work performance. Begin the conversation that you WILL need to have by acknowledging the current reality of our world and dialoguing with your team member about how she or he is handling this crisis. Care about the person before diving into the issue. Doing so will shape how you handle the rest of the conversation.
2. Have an Honest Conversation.
After caring for the person, have an honest conversation with him about what you need from him during this time. These are difficult times, but having a job right now is a gift. We are working differently than we were two months ago, but we are still working. A person with a job still needs to perform the job with excellence. Make this clear to your team member. At the end of this conversation, the person should feel heard and cared for but also understand that work must continue albeit in a different way.
3. Delay Releasing the Person if at all Possible
There are circumstances where you must terminate a person for cause. But if your decision is not crystal clear, consider delaying the release of a person during this time. You may need to “lay off” employees who you cannot afford to pay but that is not the focus of this post. I am talking here about delaying a decision to release a person because of the unprecedented nature of the time that we are living in. If you must release a person, consider waiting a couple of months if at all possible due to our current extreme circumstances and the lack of other employment opportunities available.
4. Give a Financial Severance
If you must let a person go during this time, do what you are able to give a generous severance. Giving a person a severance often feels painful in the short term. The released employee seldom shows gratitude but it is still good and right to do the best you can do to take care of a person and his or her family.
We are all hopeful for better days ahead, but we have to lead and make decisions now as well. May God grant us all wisdom to do so!