Can firing an employee actually boost morale?

Written by: Meigan Brennaman
Published on: Nov 10, 2016

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Managing team morale can be especially tricky for nonprofits, which often have limited resources, coupled with greater demands. Nonprofit employees often face higher stress levels and workloads than peers in other sectors, and these demands can weaken internal morale — especially if your team has a weak link.

While the idea of firing an employee is difficult, retaining staff who are not a good fit often causes sinking morale among other team members when they must pick up the slack for things that aren’t getting done properly or on-time.




Vu Le, executive director of Seattle nonprofit Rainier Valley Corps and the author of the popular blog Nonprofit with Balls, tackles this tough topic in a thought-provoking article called “Why we hold on to bad employees, and why we need to fire people faster.”

Here’s a great excerpt:

What happens when we keep non-compatible staff:

  • We are miserable and distracted. I have ED friends who dread going into the office because of a single individual who is clearly not a good fit for the organization. Instead of letting the person go, though, they drag it out, prolonging their stress and anxiety. This distracts from their work of fundraising, coaching other team members, and doing other stuff critical to the organization’s mission.

  • Team morale plummets. Nothing is more demoralizing to a team than when a supervisor does nothing to remove an incompetent, irresponsible, or even toxic team member. They continue to be present, a signal to the rest of the team that their boss is feckless. People become resentful, frustrated, and oftentimes despondent. The work of competent, formerly-motivated employees suffers. Says one ED, “My super-awesome operations manager, who is my own special superhero, was getting really annoyed at all of the things [the challenging employee] was not doing and all of the ways they were making HER job difficult. I owed it to her to be very honest with them, set high expectations, and then be willing to cut them loose if they didn’t meet them.”

  • Programs and services for our clients are affected. This is the most important and urgent reason for why we need to be more decisive when it comes to staff who are not performing. Having a bad employee, a feckless supervisor, and a demoralized team is a great recipe for program disaster. Kids and seniors and other people we serve experience even more hardship because of our lack of action. As one ED puts it, “We are too afraid of lawsuits from employees. Strikingly, though, not from the clients that their bad behavior impacts.” Clients are not likely going to sue us for our actions or inactions regarding an incompetent staff, but they are the ones whose lives are most significantly affected.

  • The person is prevented from achieving a job they actually can excel in. I don’t think anyone actually wants to be a bad employee. All of us strive to find the things we are good at. By keeping people who are not a good fit at a position or an organization, we may be preventing them from finding one that may be great for them. I’ve found, after talking to many supervisors, that sometimes employees feel relieved after getting fired. One colleague, after firing someone, encountered her later out in the community. “She said that she had known that she just couldn’t do the job and that ultimately it was a relief. The job was a really bad fit for her in every way.”

If you’re dealing with a compatibility issue on your own team, check out the rest of Le’s article. The “Three C’s” he outlines — Clarity, Capacity, and Compatability — can help you determine how best to proceed.




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