As human resources consultants, we see all sorts of reasons for businesses deciding to terminate employees, ranging from gross misconduct to plant closures. But there is one scenario that comes up from time to time that always strikes me as a particularly unfortunate loss of talent – when a good employee gets promoted into a role they are simply not suited for.

This situation can arise in all sorts of contexts. The superstar salesperson who’s been promoted but turns out to be a hopeless manager. Or the engineer whose love of the job disappears when moved “up” to a position that might pay more but doesn’t give the same job satisfaction. Eventually, the employer realizes that things are not working out, and by that stage, it may seem too late to do anything other than let the employee go.

Avoiding this situation, or fixing it whenever it comes up, can mean that a valuable talent is retained, benefitting both the business and the individual. Retaining and maximizing the talent you have is often better than trying to hire someone new. There are many non-legal solutions to this problem, such as: getting better at identifying the right personalities and skills for promotion; having a more open dialogue with an employee about career goals and aspirations; and providing more effective training and support to help employees develop and to fill in any skill gaps. Letting a problem fester will usually end up with a termination of employment sooner or later, and that’s not the ideal outcome for anyone.

Before you next pick up the phone to your human resources consultant for advice on how to separate an under-performing employee, pause and consider whether there is another option. They can sometimes play a role in exploring other options – for example, does an employment contract provide flexibility to reassign someone to a different, more appropriate role? How can the business have an open and honest conversation with an employee about a potential reassignment without falling into any legal traps? When an employee is promoted, can we put in place an agreement that sets out expectations for the role, provides the company with flexibility, and gives the employee a soft landing if it doesn’t work out? In these situations, it’s just possible that there are creative solutions to correct course and reignite an employee’s enthusiasm and performance.

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