This week’s workshop focused on How To Handle The Difficult Employee with Karen Bender.

As the Founder of your startup it’s inevitable at some point you will have to deal with a difficult employee. These conversations can be hard and awkward but there are ways to identify the problem before it happens.

Difficult issues arise when the culture and ethos within your company is not set and enforced from the top. Setting proper expectations early on with your team about the culture, code of conduct and what you expect as a the leader of your company are will help your employees understand what is/isn’t acceptable within the office. Consistency is key! If you say you’re not OK with a behavior, don’t sometimes be OK with it. Employees look to see what you do more than what you say.

Documenting both your code of conduct policy as well as any occurence with an employee is very important. In the case you have to let the employee go, the documentation will serve as proof you took the appropriate steps to help improve behavior. Wisconsin is an at-will employment state, which means that employers and employee work at will and can be fired for any reason, except for an improper (illegal) reason (against a protected class).

These conversations are never easy and they aren’t for both you as the Founder as well as the employee who is being disciplined or being let go. However, there are ways of going about the conversation that will help both you and the employee and steps you need to take in case the only thing left to do is let that person go from the company.

  • Prepare beforehand. Know what you’re going to say and have specific examples of behavior and when you’ve talked to them before about that behavior.
  • Show empathy. This isn’t easy for you and it definitely isn’t easy for the employee as they may be nervous or afraid of losing their job.
  • Stay calm and prepare yourself for possible retaliation because it might happen. Be prepared to be yelled at and always remember to stay cool and calm.
  • Keep the conversation short — three to five minutes: “We’ve talked about your performance on these issues, based on what happened yesterday, we’ve decided your employment is effective immediately.”
  • Cut off all access to everything as soon as termination conversation is complete. You can facilitate this by protecting passwords through technological solutions (e.g., LastPass, Dashlane, etc.). Don’t forget data on phone.
  • Most importantly, talk to your team. Let them know that person was fired for cause and that the company isn’t eliminating jobs. Assure them their jobs are not in jeopardy.
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