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When Should an Employer Ask an Employee to Quit?

Debbie Madden
Jul 04, 2018

Companies spend a lot of time talking about retention strategies for good reason. High turnover is extremely expensive. The total cost to the organization for each employee who leaves can quickly reach between 100 and 300 percent of an employee’s salary.

On the flip side, we talk often about how and when to fire an employee. Likewise on the employee side, we talk about when it’s time for an employee to quit.

Yet, we don’t talk about the fourth option: When should an employer ask an employee to quit?

While it might seem risky, asking an employee to quit is actually a very useful tool that employers fail to take advantage of. Despite the high cost that turnover carries with it, there are times when it’s best for both the company and the employee when an employee quits.

Let’s distinguish between firing an employee and an employee quitting. If an employee is at will, the company can fire them at any time, and the employee can quit at any time. At no point can an employer force or require an employee to quit.

Yet, if you have an open and trustworthy relationship with your employees, there might come a day when you sit down with them, look them in the eye, and recommend that they quit their job.

The employee is obviously not happy at the company and attempts have been made to rectify their morale.

If you have an unhappy employee, the obvious first step is to try and resolve the situation. But, we all know that sometimes, it’s simply time for an employee to move on, because they want something that the company can’t offer them.

An employee who is unhappy will quickly drag others down with them. They are likely to show up late, miss meetings, mope around the office all day, and say negative things about the company or their coworkers.

In addition, it is highly unlikely that an unhappy employee strives to excel at work. So, they are doing themselves quite a disservice and are risking their career advancement.

Too often, employers let an unhappy employee linger on the team. This doesn’t have to be the case. One time, I had an unhappy employee and I took them aside and asked “How are you doing?” and their response was as honest as could be, “I’m not happy. I’m exhausted.” My response “I think it’s time you consider moving on.” The employee gave notice the next week.

It’s been 6 years since this conversation and the person and I remain close. And, his career has thrived.

It’s very rare for an employer to have such a candid conversation with an employee and I believe that this employee valued the transparency and truthfulness to our conversation.

The employee goes from an “A Player” to a “B Player.”

An “A Player” is someone who performs at the top 25 percent of their peers. A “B Player” is someone who performs at the top 50 percent of their peers.

Teams come in all shapes and sizes and it’s unlikely that every team is comprised solely of “A Players”. So, this one is tricky. I’m not suggesting that every employee who is a “B Player” is destined for failure.

Rather, I’m suggesting that when someone goes from an “A Player” into the “B Player” slot, something has likely caused the fall. The most common cause of an “A Player” becoming a “B Player” is a company scaling quickly.

When a team scales quickly, role requirements change. Often, the “A Player” who can’t keep up with the increased or changing demands of the job recognizes that their job has changed and is feeling uncomfortable with the situation. If this has happened you might hear feedback from them like:

  • My job has gotten harder and I’m not sure why.
  • I’m improving, but not as fast as the job needs me to be.

How to Ask Your Employee to Quit

If you have an employee in one of the situations above, an in-person, one-on-one, direct and heart-felt conversation is the way to go. Be prepared for feedback, and be prepared to learn. It’s ideal to begin the conversation by sharing your observations of recent behavior and asking for the employee to share.

Last year, I started one such conversation with an unhappy employee “Over the past three months I’ve noticed you haven’t been as happy at work. Is everything ok?” The employee confided in me “Thank you so much for noticing. I really love everyone I work with, but I’ve had a dream of moving to Denver and I really think if I don’t do it now I’m never going to.” We had an honest conversation and agreed it was time for the employee to move on.

Originally Posted on Inc.

 

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