“Bad employees” – poor performers or
workers who otherwise do not live up
to management’s expectations – aren’t
good for the workplace.
It’s not easy to explain why this happens
to some employees. It might be a
personal issue, such as a divorce, that
spills over into the employee’s behavior
at the workplace. Perhaps the employee
is secretly fighting a substance abuse
issue. Maybe the employee is developing
a particularly nasty personality conflict
with a co-worker.
Many times, the employee was simply
“bad” from the start, and a faulty hiring
process resulted in a bad hire.
Big Trouble and Bad Hires
If you’re dealing with the fallout of
making a bad hire, you’re certainly not
alone. In a recent CareerBuilder survey
of nearly 2,700 employers, 68 percent
said they were affected by a bad hire.
Bad hires can negatively affect
productivity and workplace dynamics.
In a survey of chief financial officers
(CFOs) conducted by Robert Half
International, the CFOs were asked,
“To what extent do you think making a
poor hiring decision affects the morale
of your team?” Sixty percent said a
bad hiring decision “somewhat” affects
morale and 35 percent said the decision
“greatly” affects morale.
A bad hire can cost an employer time
and money, and the tangible costs associated
with managing bad employees
can be staggering.
The Robert Half International survey
found that, on average, supervisors
spend nearly one day of each workweek
overseeing poorly performing
Bad hiring decisions can also eat into
the bottom line. In the CareerBuilder survey, 41 percent of the companies that
made a bad hire estimated that it cost
them more than $25,000; and one in
four said making a bad hire cost more
The survey also asked employers about
the most common effects of a bad hire:
- Legal issues – 9 percent
- Lost time to recruit and train
another worker – 40 percent
- Cost to recruit and train another
worker – 37 percent
- Employee morale negatively
affected – 36 percent
- Less productivity – 41 percent
Management can reduce the time and
expense associated with bad employees
by improving lawful hiring practices.
But no hiring method is foolproof.
Employers should focus on more
effectively identifying bad employees
sooner, rather than later, before they
drain resources and harm the business.
Make a Good Hiring Decision
In today’s business climate, it is a
challenge to predict whether an
applicant will turn out to be a good
hire. Hiring managers have limited
exposure to candidates, and usually
no opportunity to evaluate a
candidate’s actual work.
The hiring process consumes
time and diverts attention
from the business. To make
matters worse, there is a trend
in employment law to limit the
information employers may
obtain about applicants.
California statutes and case law
restrict background checks, personality
testing, drug testing, employers’ ability
to research applicants’ social media
postings, and more.
Even so, employers can take steps to
improve the chance of a good hire.
First, employers must know what they
are looking for. Management should
have a detailed, accurate list of the knowledge, skills and abilities the
company seeks. The goal, of course, is
to hire the best match for the job and
the employer’s work environment.
But there is no such thing as a “perfect”
candidate. Employers should identify
mandatory skills and those that can be
developed over time. They also should
distinguish between “must-haves,” and
Second, successful recruiting requires
knowing where to find the right
candidates. Employers must plan
and evaluate how to source the most
qualified candidates. Resources include
personal networks, online recruiting
sources, agencies, competitors and
Third, the hiring team must understand
not only the job requirements, but
how to determine whether a candidate
possesses the needed abilities.
No manager innately knows how to
conduct interviews. Some do not even
understand the purpose of having an
interview. Therefore, management must
be trained to ask questions that elicit
information related to the candidate’s
ability to do the job. The questions are
important; but so are the candidate’s
Specific, job-related questions are key.
It is equally important for managers to
understand there are a variety of illegal
questions, such as inquiring about a
candidate’s marital status or religious
beliefs without a legitimate reason for
doing so. Even a successful candidate
may later claim discrimination based on
inappropriate interview questions.
Fourth, managers also must look for
“red flags” revealed in employment
applications and rí©sumí©s:
- Is the candidate a job hopper?
- Does he/she have a steady
progression of increasing
responsibilities and pay?
- Do significant gaps in employment
- How did his/her prior employment
- Do the educational and job history
stated on the rí©sumí© match the
Finally, employers must realize
that there is competition for the
best workers. Employers should
analyze the market to ensure that
their compensation and benefits are
competitive, and that the company’s
employment policies and management
are attractive to the workforce.
Even the best hiring practices are
no guarantee of a problem-free
employment relationship. Bad
employees can navigate the most
rigorous interviews. And some “good”
employees turn “bad” over time.
Often, employees turn bad because of
management’s failure to communicate
expectations or provide accurate
feedback. Management should
ensure that employees have a clear
understanding of performance
requirements and, if necessary, why
expectations were not met.
Employers should not allow artificially
glowing or perfunctory performance
evaluations. Such reviews mislead
employees and, worse, can be used
against the employer in the event of a
If performance is lacking, the evaluation
should clearly and candidly say so.
Management should not wait for annual
or semi-annual performance reviews to
provide performance feedback.
Legal disputes over terminations most
frequently occur when the discharged
employee was surprised by his/her
Employers that use progressive
discipline, such as corrective action
notices or warnings, should make sure
the notices or warnings are drafted
clearly and communicated to the
employee in a timely manner.
The employee should be permitted
to respond to an assessment of poor
performance. If the employee is not
allowed to respond, the employee could
later argue in a legal dispute that his/
her silence was due to ignorance of the
performance issues or not being allowed
to challenge the assessment.
Employers can negate those arguments
by giving the employee every
opportunity to address the assessment.
If the employee does not respond,
management may be able to argue the
employee’s silence demonstrates proof
of agreement or a lack of interest.
When assessing and correcting
performance, management should
prepare a performance improvement
plan with tangible benchmarks.
The plan should set realistic timetables
and goals. It is important to seek the
employee’s commitment to attain the
The employer should follow up to
assess whether the employee responded
positively to the corrective action,
whether the poor performance is
continuing or to address other concerns.
The most powerful legal weapon an employer can wield against a bad
employee is a well-drafted policy of
At-will employment means that the
employer has maximum flexibility to
decide when it is time to part ways,
without any dispute over whether the
employer has sufficient “cause” to end
the employment relationship.
It takes time to implement effective
hiring procedures and employee
performance tools. But employers
who invest the appropriate resources
in making improvements to hiring
procedures and performance evaluations
will see benefits.
They put themselves in a position to
avoid the expense and other burdens
associated with bad employees; and they
provide an environment where good
employees can thrive without being
spoiled by bad apples.