Professionally-speaking, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was to terminate someone. Although that experience took place quite some time ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday. The person had worked for the organization for many years, was over 50 years old, and had experienced some major health issues; thus, I took the termination pretty seriously because I knew it would have a significant impact on her life. Frankly, I worried that the loss of health insurance could have possibly cost her her life! On the other hand, this person had significant performance issues, chronic attendance issues, and had committed a crime that cost the organization money. On top of these issues, the person was combative and hard to deal with. What’s more is that no matter how many warning shots were fired, the behavior and attendance didn’t improve. Then, we discovered the crime. By that point, there was no saving this person. Mind you, it was my first termination, and I was terrified. I was afraid that the person might become violent during the termination meeting and that she wouldn’t be able to overcome the loss of income.
In hindsight, I realized that there was nothing I could have done to make the situation better; the employee was simply “over it” and extremely bitter. I also realized that her immediate supervisor and I were, in fact, making the overall organizational culture worse as well as increasing our employment practices liabilities with each incident that we let slide. The employee hated the job, the supervisor, and me a little bit more each day, and she expressed her resentment and anger to anybody who would listen. She could not see that the organization had to balance its operational needs while also taking into consideration that we couldn’t set a precedent with her that we could not maintain.
All in all, I look back at that experience and the countless employees I’ve encountered since then and see the same patterns of deteriorating relationships and behavior. I see leaders who are uncomfortable pulling the termination trigger, and I see employees who have silently disengaged and subscribed to the “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know” philosophy (or the “I only have 17 months, 2 weeks, and 37 minutes to retirement” approach).
As hard as it may be, sometimes it’s necessary to leave an organization. I didn’t say that it was easy or convenient to do so. The employee that I fired and the ones that I’ve encountered since all have one thing in common: they give in to feeling stuck and powerless. Although it is challenging and stunning to many, I’ve taken to recommending that people quit their jobs (or at least seek a transfer) when they start to see in themselves behaviors below. What’s more is that many of these behaviors damage your work relationships and should make you think twice about asking for a reference. Further, these are the relationships that managers and supervisors take stock of when they decide that it’s time to manage someone out of the door. Own and manage your situation before someone does it for you!
- Daily complaining.
- Diminishing or the absence of respect for your boss, whether it’s about competence, character, or the way they lead and manage.
- You stick with the job ONLY because you have no other options (you are unable to re-tool (for whatever reason) and feel stuck).
- Feelings of isolation,i.e., you don’t have any sense of an ally, a buddy, or a work family.
- Feeling disconnected from the organization’s mission.
- Regular code-switching or covering one’s real personality.
- You realize a consistent pattern of being the last to know important information or about significant occurrences, including being left off of emails chains that are relevant to you and your work.
- You know your pay is below market and that reality is affecting your attitude and willingness to do anything not specifically in your job description.
- You object to or don’t enjoy the culture, i.e., most of the team or organizational norms.
- There are lots of elephants in the room that nobody, including you, talks about.
- You regularly engage in gossip (are you really willing to do the work of reputation repair).
- The organization doesn’t provide the tools and materials needed to do the job effectively (I’m not sure how teachers do it!).
- You hate going there, and you feel stressed and anxious on Sunday nights because Monday is coming.
- Disdain for or an inability to understand and relate to the customers and stakeholders.
- You stay only for the money.
- You don’t believe there are any new skills for you to learn or improve upon.
- None of your ideas or suggestions are well-received, let alone seriously considered or implemented.
- You are pushing the boundaries with flexibility arrangements, i.e., work from home, flex-time, or time and attendance managed on the honor system.
- You’re not a team player; you resent being expected to pitch in.
- When you believe the leaders and managers have questionable ethics and don’t respect the laws governing your industry or employee rights and protections.
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