He pushed me too far so I DIDN’T fire him (at least not right away)
  • leadership
  • Blog post

He pushed me too far so I DIDN’T fire him (at least not right away)

We’ve all had insubordinate employees. Sometimes they act out because they’re angry at the organization. Other times their personalities clash with ours and they delight in pushing our buttons.

I once hired a guy in his 40s who deeply resented all forms of authority. In his job interview I got seduced by his experience and talent, and completely missed his extraordinary immaturity. At first he just made dumb comments that I ignored, but eventually he became defiant. I’d ask him to perform a task and he’d say, “I’ll try to get to it.” I’d give him feedback on his work and request changes and he’d say, “Whatever.”

I remember thinking how pathetic it was that this over-40 adult behaved like a teenager. One day he pushed my buttons one time too many and I exploded. I don’t remember what I said, but I was really angry and vented for several minutes. That was the wrong thing to do, but I did one thing right.

Avoided the worst mistake
I didn’t fire him. I avoided the single biggest mistake you can make with insubordinate employees — firing them when you’re angry.

Instead, I told him to go back to his desk. Then I closed my door, took a few deep breaths, and began calmly preparing my plan to get rid of him without exposing my company to an age discrimination lawsuit.

When a worker challenges you — especially in front of other employees — it’s only natural to want to deal with the problem right then and there. You might tell yourself that at that moment, the most important thing you can do is let people know who’s in charge.

But you won’t lose credibility by holding off on that decision until you’ve had a chance to calm down, take a step back and consider all of the options. In fact, you’ll likely earn the respect of your employees if you handle issues like these strictly by the book.

And there’s an even more important reason not to fire when angry. You could leave yourself open to a lawsuit. It’s a good bet that the employee you fired is angry too. And angry ex-employees are the ones most likely to sue.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t fire someone who deserves it. But it does mean you’d better have your ducks in a row when you do.

So walk away, calm yourself down, and deal with the termination or other discipline later. Remember, this isn’t a personal battle between you and the employee — it’s a PERSONNEL decision that you’re making on behalf of your employer, and you need to make it with a perfectly clear head.

photo credit: Ryan Forsythe


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