April 10, 2015

How to ‘Consciously Uncouple’ From Bad Hires

ChainsThere is no such thing as a perfect new hire: nearly all new hires are unfinished products that need some degree of grooming and refining. However, some new hires may simply be irredeemable; these new hires should probably be dismissed.

This can create huge problems for employers, because in many countries, it can be very complicated and expensive to dismiss employees. There is also emotional fallout to contend with, which could affect company morale.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to effectively dismiss new hires with minimal emotional and financial fallout, a kind of “conscious uncoupling”?

Well, in my experience, there are, in fact, more gentle and emotionally intelligent ways to break ties with bad hires than the “blunt instrument” approach:

1. Financial Incentives to Resign

Zappos has a well-known “conscious uncoupling” policy in which the company pays staff members anything from $1,000 to $4,000 to quit on their 90 day anniversaries. Rather than using a stick to beat bad hires, Zappos dangles a carrot to encourage the unhappy hire to reflect on their suitability for the job, giving them a safety net if they want to leave.

Amazon has now extended this policy, offering workers at their fulfillment centers a $1,000 incentive to leave after a year. The incentive rises incrementally each year, culminating in a $5,000 incentive to leave after five years.

Paying people to leave may sound expensive, but it’s actually a bargin when you consider the potential costs of forcibly dismissing employees.

2. Mutual Separation Policies

Cisco once offered a “no-fault divorce policy” that gave employees the option to leave with a good or — perhaps not bad — reference. A fear of receiving a poor reference can make employees refrain from voluntarily exiting an organization or role that hasn’t worked out. By offering this kind of “no-fault divorce,” employers can accept some responsibility for the employee’s failure to succeed at the organization. This could be a good incentive to encourage “conscious uncoupling.”

3. Options to Engage on a Different Basis

This may not work for every employee, but some employees may be uncomfortable with the culture of the company, and they might be happy to engage with the business on a more suitable basis, such as becoming a freelancer or independent contractor. This might even help these employees perform better. Employers can consider offering a policy that gives employees the opportunity to resign and reengage with the company in a different capacity –e.g., as a part-time, freelance, or even contingent worker.

In our modern, more emotionally intelligent age, I think it is possible for employers to start parting with employees in ways that minimize stress, loss of moral/productivity, and the costs associated with the traditional “blunt instrument” approach to dismissal.

You should check that all these approaches comply with employment law in your area before using them.  

Read more in Dismissal

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.