trade tales | Jun 7, 2019 |
The last straw: When to let an employee go

Whether you run a firm with a staff of three or 30, letting an employee go is never easy. Every business owner has a different philosophy on the matter, and their own way of breaking the news. We asked six designers—Vicente Wolf, Janie Molster, Eve Robinson, Tavia Forbes, Monet Masters, and Richard Rabel—how they know when it’s time to let someone go.

Vicente Wolf
Vicente WolfCourtesy of Vicente Wolf Associates

A Final Resort

“To me, the people that I work with are like my family. I will take the end of their employment as close to the bone as possible, with letting them go as a final resort. Whether due to financial or performance reasons, I treat them with respect. If there are performance issues, I go through proper practices of warnings and coaching the employee. The important thing is the strength and survival of my business. I find letting an employee go to be distasteful. I’m probably a little awkward doing it, yet I try to be as straightforward as possible.” —Vicente Wolf, Vicente Wolf Associates, New York

Janie Molster
Janie MolsterCourtesy of Janie Molster Designs

Be Swift

“There have been only a few rare occasions when things have gone south with an employee at my firm. If it’s an ethics issue, I feel termination needs to be immediate. Our team is small and collaborative, so a breach of trust with a coworker can be heartbreaking and creates a toxic environment. ... A second issue that I’ve had is when a formerly good employee has fallen out of love with their job. For example, they are no longer excited about attending a trade show with new products, or meeting with a rep showing their new line, and there is an audible groan when a client who needs a lot of hand-holding resurfaces with a new project. That’s a different sort of toxicity, but burnout and negativity are damaging to the work environment and can be a buzzkill for the overall office. In this scenario, I try to finesse the situation by helping my employee along in their realization that a change would be beneficial for them, and I offer a more liberal timeline for the end of their employment, or rather their next chapter.” —Janie Molster, Janie Molster Designs, Richmond, VA

Eve Robinson
Eve RobinsonCourtesy of Eve Robinson Associates

Slow to Grow

“It is important to establish milestones for my employees, [so they can work toward those goals] and understand what my expectations are for them. If an employee does not show progress or the progress is extremely slow, then I may decide that it does not make sense to have [them] stay a member of my team. If an employee violates an office ethics rule, then I have little tolerance for keeping them. Needless to say, letting an employee go is never easy. If I do need to let someone go, I set a meeting and share my reasons for termination. Once my mind has been made up, I don’t change it.” —Eve Robinson, Eve Robinson Associates, New York

Tavia Forbes
Tavia ForbesCourtesy of Forbes + Masters

go with the Flow

“This is one of the hardest decisions to make as you are scaling your business. Common advice has always stated, ‘Be slow to hire and quick to fire.’ Easier said than done. Creative careers are among the hardest to measure productivity, and comparing two creatives is like apples to oranges. Since standard measures are hard to apply in most cases, willingness to learn and grow take precedence. When an employee starts to display complacency and aversion to critique and correction, it is usually the time to let them go. Small businesses are like children in the beginning, learning new things each day, adjusting to everyday stimuli. An immutable employee simply cannot move with the ebb and flow of a growing company.” —Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters, Forbes + Masters, Atlanta

Richard Rabel
Richard RabelCourtesy of Richard Rabel Interiors + Art

Three Strikes

“I’m all for second chances but I’m also all for three strikes and you're out. While this is a guide I go by, it’s not necessarily set in stone as it all depends on the infraction, the time between infractions, and the way the staff person manages the strike. I’m a believer in personal responsibility and acknowledgment of mess-ups (and of learning from mistakes and not repeating them). If a staff member lacks conviction in this area, then I made a mistake in their hiring and their career with the studio will be short-lived. All my employees know about my ‘three strikes and you’re out’ philosophy, so in 99.9 percent of the cases, the employee knows it’s coming. I don’t like letting people go—it’s a waste of time, resources and emotional energy. But it’s worse to keep an employee who continually makes trouble.” —Richard Rabel, Richard Rabel Interiors + Art, New York

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