Work Woes

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D.

Dr. Mike,

I’m a manager at a large tech company and my boss has directed me to fire someone on my team, but as a Christian, I just can’t do it. It’s true that the employee on my team keeps messing things up and is doing a really bad job. I put him on a performance plan that hasn’t changed anything, but it feels wrong to fire someone when they’re trying to do their very best. The employee in question is also the single bread winner of his family, and he has three young children. I guess it’s true that I do complain to my husband about this employee all the time, and he’s gotten sick of it, and last week we had a stupid fight over my not being able to do what I’m supposed to do at work. Augh! I don’t want to upset my boss, my husband or my employee, but I don’t know how to make everyone happy. Your help is appreciated.

Concerned in Loudoun

Dear Concerned in Loudoun,

While I appreciate that your situation at work is an upsetting one for you emotionally, the answer to your problem is actually quite simple – you need to fire your employee. This task will be less difficult for you when you separate out your emotions from your responsibilities and duties in your role as a manager.

So, let’s think through things together here.

As a manager, you’ve respectfully tried to help your employee stay at the company with a performance plan, but he is still “failing” to meet your expectations in his work. Moreover, you write that your company is a large one, so you may have shareholders and/or board members; and, both your shareholders and board are relying on you to responsibly put the needs of the company ahead of a single employee who is underperforming.

Your position that you don’t want to upset anyone – your husband, your boss or your employee – is not a realistic one, but again, I don’t think you don’t need to feel so alone or so badly about doing the right thing as a manager. Thus, another thought to consider is that you let your boss know how you feel about your employee, and perhaps he or she could help to support you better – maybe you’d benefit from some additional training in management, or by having a professional mentor (if you don’t have one already) or by working with an executive coach.

Know that you are not alone in your struggle. Surveys in this area have actually shown that firing employees is one of the most stressful and upsetting task for managers, however, it goes with the territory. Also, know that you’re not a bad Christian, in my opinion, because you, as a manager, are perforce being placed in the role of having to fire an employee that is unable to adequately do their job.

I leave you with a quote I like a lot on this topic from Colin Powell:
“Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable, if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally ‘nicely’ regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.” – Colin Powell

Dr. Michael Oberschneider, a Clinical Psychologist, is the Founder and Director of Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services. Oberschneider has been featured on CNN Nightly News, Good Morning America, the WTOP, and several other media outlets. He also received the recognition of “Top Therapist” (July 2009) by Washingtonian Magazine. In 2016, Oberschneider added Ollie Outside, a children’s book encouraging screen-free fun. His office is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Ste. 240, Ashburn. To learn more call 703-723-2999.