Difficult Relationships: Sometimes, People Fire Themselves

A friend of mine owns a successful small American restaurant in Los Angeles; great food, atmosphere and has always had a really professional staff.  I’ll tell you who it is later because this post isn’t about the restaurant.  It’s about the hard subject of when it’s okay to end a relationship; in this case a professional one with an employee.

When he came to me with his concerns about what happened and asked for my opinion, I was reminded of the adage:

People fire themselves

As an entrepreneur and restaurateur, it’s always hard to hear a story about a long-term employee who seems determined to end the working relationship.   This employee was very good at many aspects of their job. But on multiple occasions, when they would exhibit completely unacceptable behavior, you could see how they were trying to work out (in their head) how best to get what they wanted (not to be fired) without giving any indication that their behavior was unacceptable and could indeed get them fired.  My friend said they’d given this employee lots of chances to fix things: lots of opportunities to make it right, probably more than they should have.

In the end, my friend finally suspended the employee for a pattern of behavior (chronically late and belligerence at work).  When the employee returned after their suspension, instead of acknowledging their errors, the employee lashed out at my friend and accused him of not running his business properly and not caring about his employees.  The employee capped it all off with, “ I’m not happy here and no one likes to work here!”

That was it.  My friend promptly fired the employee but was worried that he had acted too harshly, even punitively.

Separations with people we know, even if warranted, are difficult. When it’s an employee that has worked with you a long time and for most of that time very successfully, it is especially hard.  The longer the years, the more combined experiences, the harder the separation.

It’s only natural to second-guess your actions, no one likes confrontation, and we never like losing relationships, especially long term ones.  But this particular situation was impossible to resolve any other way.   Had my friend not taken action and allowed this employee’s behavior to continue it would have sent a very strong message to the rest of the staff that my friend really didn’t care about his business.  I told my friend that he definitely did the right thing and repeated what I always say-

In life, with friends and employees, people always fire themselves.

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