Connections for Success



The Hidden Dangers of Marginal Employees
Alison Fetzer

Unfortunately, almost every office seems to have that one employee who performs below the needs of his/her organization. Whether the employee has a bad attitude, delivers a poor work product, is chronically late, or is just plain lazy, it is imperative that management take action. More often than not, instead of terminating this employee, organizations keep them on to their detriment.

Keeping a marginal employee:

  • Sends the wrong message. It shows that management is okay with individuals who do not do good work. Even worse, it may discourage your all-star employees from living up to their potential because they do not believe it is valued or even necessary.
  • Breeds inefficiency. Typically, marginal employees need extra hand holding, their work needs extra review, or frustration surrounding them leads to long gripe sessions. All of these things and more make extra work for management. Time spent dealing with or mitigating marginal employees is time not spent on the productive members of your organization.
  • Can cost your organization great employees. Highly-qualified, efficient job candidates will be deterred from joining an organization with employees that do not match their drive and skill.

With all the hidden dangers of marginal employees, why are there so many in the workforce? Management is often afraid to terminate an employee for fear of legal repercussion, concern that there is not time to find a replacement, or a belief that there is not anyone better out there. However, it is critical that steps are taken to remove these employees before any more damage is done:

  • All employees should have regular performance evaluations that are discussed directly with the employee. Job responsibilities and management’s expectations should be clearly defined and regularly evaluated. This will facilitate the identification of marginal employees. It is critical that all employees follow a similar evaluation process to prevent potential legal issues down the line.
  • Employees not meeting expectations must be made aware of management’s concerns. These concerns should be documented in writing and shared with the employee, as this documentation could be used as evidence if a wrongful termination suit is filed. Typically a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is used. Each PIP should outline the problem, cite specific observations of the problem, discuss what needs to be done and include a timeline for when the problem(s) need to be resolved. The employee should sign that they have received and reviewed the PIP with management. There should be periodic check-ins to gauge improvement. Before developing a PIP, make sure to determine if you work in an At Will Employment State, as it will affect how you go about this process.
  • Employees that are unable or unwilling to improve need to be let go. This will send a clear message to all employees that management is committed to excellence, and anything less will not be acceptable. Make sure there is a manager level witness at the time of termination. Further, it is important to send the message that the employee is being terminated due to performance issues.

Marginal employees hurt organizational morale, kill efficiency, and are a waste of your organization’s limited resources. Take action today, before it’s too late. For questions, contact Ali Fetzer at [email protected] or call her at 312.670.7444. Visit to learn more about our Not-For-Profit Group.

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