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De-Hiring a Problem Employee

Don't fire. Learn to de-hire to create a win-win situation for you and your employee.

Creating a positive work environment for your employees is important for both staff
retention and the success of your fitness programs. However, keeping your staff happy can be challenging, especially when you are dealing with a difficult employee. Managing a problematic employee is time consuming and negatively affects the cohesion of your fitness team. Unfortunately, hoping that a troublesome employee will just go away is not always realistic and may even make the situation worse. Instead of backing away from the problem, take action. By learning how to “de-hire,” you may never have to fire anyone again.

The Importance of Documentation

Make sure that you maintain accurate employee records. Whenever an employee deviates from club policy or procedure, record the incidence in his file. These records become invaluable, especially when an employee goes from being great to not so great. Generally, giving an employee some leeway for a few small infractions is fine so you aren’t overmanaging. However, immediately meet with your employee on the third small incidence or the first significant
incidence. Depending on the gravity of the infraction, it may also be necessary to give him an official documentation letter of the issues when you meet.

A properly written documentation letter states the purpose of the letter, the issues to be discussed with specific dates, a reference to the contract (i.e., the organization’s lateness policy), plus the long-term consequences to the employee if the behavior continues. The letter should also include suggestions that will assist the employee in correcting the behavior. Finally, make sure he signs a copy of the letter. This signature proves that the person has received, read and accepts the conditions stated. These records become very important
if you later need to let the employee go with just cause.

Meeting With the
Problem Employee

Meeting one-on-one with an employee and discussing issues is sometimes unnerving—especially if the employee is confrontational! Be prepared. Review the employee’s file and feel confident that discussing the behavior is necessary for the betterment of the entire organization. To communicate effectively, use influential agreement statements. The statements identify the issue to be discussed, value the individual, state the consequences if the employee’s poor behavior continues and encourage problem solving. (See “Communicating Effectively With a Problem Employee” on page 8 for an example.)

Usually acknowledging and meeting with an employee is enough to make a positive change in his future behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not.

When It’s Time to De-Hire

When a relatively content employee starts to cause problems or seems unhappy, it is often a sign that the person is ready to move on. Many times an employee has trouble knowing when to let go because change can be daunting. Instead of telling you that she wants to leave, she may create issues that either force you to discipline or fire her. In essence, forcing your hand makes it easier for her to leave. Then she perceives that the organization, not her behavior, is the problem.

As soon as you begin to recognize a continuous, fairly regular pattern of inappropriate behavior, it is time to de-hire the employee. De-hiring is very different from firing. De-hiring an employee is allowing her to conclude—on her own—that it is time to leave. De-hiring lets the employee know that it is okay to leave, and facilitates the departure.

For example, consider the problem employee Sue. (See “Communicating Effectively With a Problem Employee” on this page.) In the weeks after you met with her about missing a staff meeting, you notice that she has called in sick several times and argued with some of your members. You have met with her and know that her behavior isn’t due to her personal life, so you conclude that she must be unhappy at work. The best thing to do is to meet with Sue again and start the separation process.

Begin the conversation with statements such as “Sue, it appears that Club X is really not the place you want to be working. You have been calling in sick and arguing with members. Perhaps you’re not happy teaching here any more?” “Sue, are you truly happy at Club X or do you feel you might need a change?” or “Sue, it doesn’t appear that you want to be part of the team anymore. Why don’t you think about what you want to do and let’s meet again tomorrow.”

These types of questions allow the employee to reflect on her current situation and realize that perhaps she isn’t happy with her position anymore. In most cases the employee, with a little nudging, recognizes that it is time for her to leave.

The Crucial Exit Interview

Once an employee decides to leave it
is important to have an exit interview. This ensures there is closure between your organization and the employee. Typically an exit interview goes over why the individual is leaving and includes questions about what the employee gained from working at your organization, what she feels your company does well and areas where the
organization could improve. Having proper closure with an employee is valuable because both parties part ways in a professional, amicable way.

Building a Strong Team

De-hiring a negative employee is desirable. However it is not always possible. In the unfortunate situation where you must fire an employee, make sure you understand the employees’ standards act within your state and/or seek professional advice.

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Communicating Effectively With a Problem Employee

“Sue,” a star teacher, has missed two consecutive monthly instructor meetings without being excused prior to the meetings. (The facility’s policy is that all instructors must attend mandatory meetings or forfeit their classes.) In this situation, it is important to meet with Sue immediately and ask about her lack of attendance. She may get defensive and say, “I don’t want to come to staff meetings anymore. They are a waste of my time.” What’s the best strategy for dealing with a problem situation like this? Using the following influential agreement statements can be tremendously helpful in helping the person change.

1. Identify the Behavior:

“Sue, are you saying that you do not find that the staff meetings are important or is it that you don’t have time for them?”

2. Value the Person:

“I understand how valuable your time is especially when you have a family and work full time.”

3. State the Consequences:

“It has been my experience that instructors who attend the meetings become better teachers through education and networking. In time, if we find the right formula for the meetings, I believe the meetings will exceed your expectations. Without the meetings, staying current will be challenging for you. Also, as stated in your contract, meetings are mandatory.”

4. Encourage Problem Solving:

“What topic would you find valuable for the next instructor meeting? Let’s commit to you thinking about a topic that you would find valuable and I will commit to finding a presenter to review the topic. When could you get back to me with a topic?”

Here both the manager and the employee are engaged in problem solving. Although managers often derive a solution before meeting, the employee still has an opportunity to partake in problem solving and will comply better if she believes that she came up with the solution herself.


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Krista Popowych

Krista Popowych inspires fitness leaders, trainers and managers around the globe with her motivating sessions. She is the 2014 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and a three-time (2016, 2008, 2003) canfitpro Canadian Fitness Presenter of the YearShe is Keiser’s global director of education, as well as a Balanced Body® master trainer, JumpSport® consultant, DVD creator, published writer, Adidas-sponsored fit pro and IDEA Group Fitness Committee member.

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