The Results Are In: Most Common Reasons for Terminating an Employee

In our February question of the month, we asked our readers about their most common reasons for terminating an employee. Nearly 1,200 respondents weighed in, and the results were overwhelmingly conclusive.

With just shy of 62% of the vote, the top reason for terminating an employee was “poor work ethic.” Coming in at a distant second was “employee skill gaps” at 11%, followed by “poor cultural fit” at just over 5%. Only 4% of respondents said they typically don’t let employees go, but rather they leave voluntarily.

Slightly more than 17% of respondents chose the “other” option and offered their own responses for why they most often have to terminate an employee, including:

  • Attendance
  • Dishonesty
  • Theft
  • Breaking policies

It’s never easy to let someone go, but in many cases there are few other options. However, with the increasingly difficult challenge of finding top talent, it may be beneficial to put a greater emphasis on helping struggling employees with some training before a termination decision is made.

Uncover the Underlying Issues to Build a Development Action Plan
Before letting an under-performing employee go, it’s important to be sure you understand the underlying issues that may be leading to their performance challenges. Dig deeper to try to get at the root of their issue and you may find there’s an opportunity for some one-on-one training to help the employee develop into the type of worker they need to be in order to be successful in their role. Not only would you be potentially shaping future all-star talent for your company, but you may even uncover issues that could be affecting other employees. Turnover is expensive, so if you notice a trend of increasing turnover developing, putting in a little extra time to understand what may be causing it could have a positive impact on your productivity and bottom line.

If you do discover an under-performing employee may have hidden potential, there are a few steps you can take to help get them back on the right track.

  • Clarify expectations of the position – Sometimes a simple misunderstanding of what is required of them could be impacting an employee’s performance. Or, maybe they don’t even realize they are not meeting expectations. Taking a moment to clarify the requirements of an employee’s job and reassessing their ability to achieve them can help pinpoint performance problems and guide training opportunities before making decisions about termination.
  • Build an action plan – Once you’ve uncovered the underlying challenges that may be causing an employee to underperform, you can put an action plan in place to help them develop the skills and expertise they need to address their performance issues. Be sure to set goals and achievement markers and be very clear about the consequences of not completing the action plan.
  • Follow up (and follow through) – Maintaining regular communication with an employee during their development process is important to ensure success. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings to stay up to date on their action plan progress and be prepared to help them stay on track or refocus along the way. Most importantly, be prepared to follow through with any consequences if the employee continues to fail to meet expectations. There’s only so much you can do to develop your talent. If it seems like no progress is being made or the employee has lost interest in following the action plan, then it may be time to make some bigger decisions about their future with the company.

How have you helped an under-performing employee develop the skills necessary to be successful in their job? What were the results of your actions? Let us know in the comments section below.


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