When I ask an auto repair business owner what their number one issue is, 90% of the time the answer is “staff”. We struggle to find them, we struggle to work effectively with their skill level, and sometimes we struggle to keep the good ones.
As long time readers of this column would know, I prefer to call the great team members “talent”, and the ones who cause you drama “staff”. I have previously discussed that while a talent member will buy into your vision for the business, thrive with responsibility, and protect the culture, a staff member will push the boundaries by arriving 2 minutes before start time and start packing up 15 minutes before finish time. They will often abuse responsibility when it is given to them (think slacking off when you aren’t there), and they will try and enlist others in culturally destructive behaviours.
But what happens when you know you have a “staff” member on your team, but you can’t find anyone else to replace them?
Thinking that you will hold on to them while you find someone else will be your biggest mistake, and here is why:
- You risk losing other decent and hardworking team members in the meantime. Other team members can quickly become disillusioned in your abilities as a leader by your apparent lack of action in containing or removing the toxic employee. If you do not take a stand against toxic employees, it sends a message that the business tolerates this bad behavior. Other employees will stop working hard, and will go through the motions of a job. Some people end up stealing company property, spreading rumors, and destroying the reputation of the business. Others will simply leave.
- You risk losing customers to your competitors. If your toxic employee has poor work habits and performance, and/or poor customer service, you may not be able to repair the damage done when a customer is unhappy with the service provided. The customer may also tell others, meaning damage is caused to your business reputation.
- It will cost you money. It costs money to replace lost employees, lost customers, and not to mention the money spent on repairing shoddy workmanship.
You may not find it easy to have confronting or courageous conversations with your toxic employee, especially if they believe you can’t run your business without them.
It is important that you set and explain clear boundaries and expectations for all team members to follow, and that you adhere to them long term. Toxic employees may toe the line for the short term once reprimanded, but they will lay in wait, watching to see when you get too busy again to notice their culturally destructive behaviour. And once you are busy, they will simply commence the cycle all over again.
Holding the toxic team member in place because someone is better than no one will actually block the right person from coming along.
Here are 9 tips for ending the employment of your toxic team member:
- Properly document toxic behaviour. It’s critical to document every step you’ve taken to communicate your expectations, including briefing the misbehaving employee about your business culture (i.e. what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour). Then, as things go south, continue to share written feedback to the employee and keep written copies of notifications showing the employee was given time to improve, etc. Make sure the written warnings are signed by the employee.
- Don’t procrastinate, but don’t jump the gun either. Never allow a toxic employee to fester in your workshop year-after-year and damage morale. But DO NOT terminate that employee until you have a file full of documentation to show a legitimate business reason for the termination (i.e. negative behaviour that affected the entire workplace). What’s enough documentation? Enough that the toxic employee knows why the meeting was called and expects to be terminated. If in doubt, check with Fair Work Australia before having the conversation that terminates their employment, and even before you commence the written warning process.
- Act decisively. Terminate the employee as quickly as possible after you’ve witnessed an incident that, in your opinion, is the final straw. Otherwise, the employee can claim you were motivated by other reasons.
- Always listen to feedback from the workplace. Employees are an early warning system that can help you detect and confront a toxic employee.
- Surface the toxic behavior at the very next employee performance review meeting (At The Workshop Whisperer we like to call these Feedback Forums). Include the toxic employee’s leader, or the next in charge down from you in the discussion, where possible.
- Give the toxic employee a definitive time period in which to improve.
- Develop the turnaround plan with the toxic employee and have him sign the performance review.
- Insist the toxic employee leave the workplace immediately once terminated. Do not let them work the notice period. Pay them out instead, and walk them out the door. Failing to do so gives them the opportunity to continue to infect your other employees with their culturally disruptive behaviours.
- Finally, fix your recruiting process. Hire based on cultural fit, and train for skill.
Always remember, no man is more important than the mission.