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Tough Call: Being loyal

A longtime employee’s performance is on the decline. He’s been with you for 30 years, so you don’t want to terminate him. What would you do?

Nearly 30 years ago, you decided to put your savings and your sweat into building something of your own. Having worked in the construction supply industry, you stuck with what you knew and created Loyal Lumber Co. It’s been an interesting adventure, but three decades later, Loyal Lumber has established itself as a go-to building material supplier, serving a reliable clientele of remodelers, custom builders, and weekend warriors.

You’re proud of what you and team have built, and you’re especially proud that of your four original team members, three are still with you to this day. Their loyalty means the world to you. After all, you wouldn’t be where you are today if they hadn’t dug in their heels with you and helped build Loyal Lumber into a solid company. You swore that you’d always take care of them, and you have. But there’s a situation with one that you don’t know how to navigate.

Bob, one of the original three, wore a lot of hats in the early years—as you all did. But as your company grew, he became your primary buyer, an area of the business that he loved and excelled at.

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Over the past couple of years, Bob began making small mistakes, and missing details that he would normally catch. Some days are better than others, but as time has gone on, the mistakes he’s making aren’t always small. His workload has been reduced to try to allow him to slow down and improve the quality of his work, but he still seems to rush things and make more mistakes. He is currently 57 years old, and his cognitive abilities seem to be declining fairly rapidly. When you’ve tried to sit down to talk about his performance, he gets very defensive, and insists that he’ll do better.

You’ve worked side-by-side with Bob for 30 years. He’s been loyal to you, and you are determined to repay his loyalty. However, your company is relatively small, and simply can’t afford many more of his mistakes. If he were a new employee, you’d have terminated him by now. You’re struggling to find a more positive solution that honors his years of loyalty while not allowing his declining performance to harm Loyal Lumber. What would you do?

  • LET HIM GO. For the sake of the company and Bob’s coworkers, you have no choice but to terminate his employment. Offer a healthy severance package and wish him well.
  • GET HIM HELP. Tell Bob that his performance is declining, and you want him to see a doctor and see what’s going on, so you can do something about it and hopefully get him back on track.
  • IGNORE IT. Bob has given Loyal Lumber 30 of his best years. Think about that next time he makes mistakes. You owe it to him to ignore these issues.
  • FIND A Fit. Just because Bob can no longer do his old job, doesn’t mean there isn’t somewhere in your company where he can contribute. Work with him to find a position that fits his skills.

What would you do?

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