How can you tell when an employment relationship has run its course? And what if you’ve figured it out, but the employee hasn’t?

Often, the problem is a function of fit: The organization has evolved in some way or the job itself has changed, but the employee has not adapted. Or maybe the employee wasn’t really right for the job from the beginning, but you tried to make it work anyway.

Start from the Top

Sometimes managers are so concerned about being fair — or so averse to being perceived as harsh — that they’re not candid enough about performance gaps or communication problems.

So if you’re experiencing long-term dissatisfaction with an employee, check your own behavior. Be sure you haven’t neglected these individuals or excluded them because of taste or personal preferences.

Next, consider whether they might need new or additional skills or coaching (either from you or a third party) to help them develop a better understanding of what’s necessary for them to be successful.

Warning Signs

The employee/employer relationship can become damaging to both parties if these warning signs are not heeded:

  1. A lack of progress in the work: Poor performance has already been noted, and even after coaching, there’s insufficient improvement.
  2. Reactions and complaints from the team: There’s chaos and negativity around these individuals, no matter who works with them. It takes a lot of extra effort to incorporate or respond to their input. The ongoing small conflicts and discomforts they create have led to others attempting to dodge partnering or sharing assignments with them.
  3. Impact on company culture: Instead of adopting the developmental, strategic, collegial focus you’re trying to instill, these individuals nitpick one thing after another or keep trying to take things back to the way they were years ago under another regime. They provide pat answers when you want thoughtful responses, shoot from the hip when you want them to be deliberate, and are rigid and uncreative when you want innovation. Instead of taking responsibility for failures, they make countless excuses about why and how they couldn’t have done anything differently.

Moving On

If you’re convinced that this relationship won’t improve despite your serious efforts to repair the situation, then, for the sake of the organization, the team, and the individual, structure a responsible end game that includes these steps:

  1. Always show respect for the people who don’t fit and for their good intentions, contributions, and maturity. This first step is the underlying premise for everything else that follows. You don’t have to coddle these folks, but you should share realistic feedback with them and try to work out a smooth transition. Neither of you knows where either of you will be in five or 10 years, and occasionally someone who’s been a failure in your shop can evolve into a raging success elsewhere.There’s never a good reason to burn bridges. Let the organization see how straightforwardly and humanely even grave disappointments can be handled, and avoid the possibility of ending up in a bad review on Glassdoor, the website where employees post anonymous opinions of their companies and supervisors.
  2. Get them an “exit package.” Now is not the time to grumble about how long you put up with them and how much you spent on them during that period, or even on how much their inaction or bad decisions cost you. If you’re the leader, those are your costs and responsibilities.Sometimes the “carrot” of an exit package encourages people to make their own departure decisions and maintain good behaviors, which will help you and your organization a lot more than an unceremonious termination. Providing a package that includes generous severance should also help assuage any guilt about mismanaging the hire, performance, or disruption to a life.
  3. Provide them with top-notch outplacement or life or retirement coaching. The sooner they’re settled into the next stage of their career or life and as close to happy as they can be, the better off you are.