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12 Signs It's Time to Let Go of an Employee

Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan

Firing an employee is never easy, but holding on to a problem employee to avoid confrontation or the challenge of finding a replacement can be bad for business and morale.

However, being too quick to fire an employee can result in a whole host of other problems, so how do you know when it's really time to let someone go? From performance issues and attitude problems to major conflicts like stealing and harassment, there are plenty of valid reasons for firing an employee. Sometimes you even have to let go of employees you love, whose needs you can't meet as an employer. No matter the situation, learning when to let go is important.

Business News Daily asked experts to tell us how they know when it's time to fire an employee. Here are 12 telltale signs it's time to let go.

The sign: General carefree attitude

"Do they want to do the job?  Do they come to work late or leave early? Spend more time socializing than working?  Miss deadlines? Make unnecessary mistakes? An employer can read between those lines that the employee doesn't really want to be there anymore." – Arlene S. Hirsch, career and psychological counselor

The sign: You see their résumé on the copy machine

"If the employee is using company time and resources to find their next job, it is time for them to go." – Brad Karsh, president, JB Training Solutions

The sign: Other employees are forced to pick up their slack

"Questions the manager has to ask themselves are, 'Do I really want to have on my team an employee who is not competent enough to do the required job, considering they had received proper training? ' and 'Do I really want to have on my team an employee who is not engaged.'" – Tmima Grinvald, certified professional business and life coach, The Round Well Coaching and Business Development

The sign: Their goals don't align

"The employee-employer relationship only works when the company goals match the employee goals. When this equation comes unbalanced, it is time to let the employee go." – Barry Moltz, author and small business consultant

The sign: You complain about them outside the office

"When you find yourself telling friends, loved ones or anyone that will listen to you another example of why this person is not working out. I find that spouses have great insight after listening to when you come home often complaining about the same person." – Gary Cohen, executive coach and founder, ]

The sign: They're not trying to improve

"When the agreed-upon Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) doesn't work. Employers rarely fire employees when they exhibits signs that it's time to let them go [because it's] too potentially litigious. Managers, HR and the employee have to work out a PIP with stated potential consequences for the employee if he or she doesn't achieve stated improvements within an agreed-on time frame." – Lynda Spiegel, founder, Rising Star Resumes

The sign: They seem defeated

"One of the biggest telltale signs I come across is that when someone seems defeated. Usually when someone doesn't have any sort of reaction to a warning or a reprimand, they are just about 'checked out' mentally. Some people have difficulty leaving a job on their own and act as if they almost want you to terminate them. When you reach this point with an employee, unfortunately letting them go may be the best course of action." – Bill Fish, founder and president,

The sign: They've become a loner (when they weren't one before)

"[The employee] doesn't greet people in the morning or before leaving, doesn't eat lunch or have coffee with the team [anymore and] prefers to work alone instead of collaboratively. [They're also] wearing ear phones to avoid conversation or provide distance in closed quarters, eating and going for coffee alone, [and] skipping office celebrations such as birthdays." – Marilyn Santiesteban, assistant director of career services, Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University

The sign: Their behavior is questionable

"This may seem obvious, but lack of morals should be a red flag for HR professionals. Truly good people make the best employees, so unethical behavior should never be tolerated." – Lisa Brown Morton, president and CEO, Nonprofit HR

The sign: Other employees are complaining

"If multiple employees are having issues with an individual, most of the time that individual is the common denominator. A good manager will provide prompt feedback to that employee so he can address the issues. If these are not addressed, though, other good employees will resent the situation. Their work may suffer, or they may leave. It is better to let the problem individual go." – Tatiana Becker, founder, NIAH Recruiting

The sign: They're only there because you can't replace them yet

"All too often employers hold onto poor performing employees because it's hard to replace them. Ask yourself: what's the price of my holding onto this employee? Have I given them every opportunity to succeed? Or are they taking advantage of me?" –Liz D'Aloia, founder, HR Virtuoso

The sign: They're ready for a promotion that you can't give them

"This is one that many companies are uncomfortable confronting; if an employee is ready to take the next step in her career, but her path is blocked by a capable leader, it is appropriate to encourage her to seek the right role elsewhere. Do this consistently and your company becomes known as an effective developer of talent and supporter of people, creating a virtuous circle of positive outcomes." – Aaron Ziff, vice president, International Strategy & Consulting

Originally published on Sept. 15, 2011. Updated on May 29, 2015. Business News Daily Senior Writer Chad Brooks also contributed to this story.

Image Credit: Thinglass/Shutterstock
Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan
Business News Daily Staff
Brittney Q. Morgan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, as well as a graduate of Drew University, where she majored in History. Her work can be found all across the web at Apartment Therapy, HuffPost, and more. You can also find her on Twitter at @brittneyplz.