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IJEMH • Vol. 12, No. 4 • 2010 1
International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. xxx-xxxx © 2010 Chevron Publishing ISSN 1522-4821
Managing Problem Employees:
A Model Program and Practical Guide
Independent Practice, Boca Raton, Florida
Abstract: This article presents a model program for managing problem employees that includes a description
of the basic types of problem employees and employee problems, as well as practical recommendations for:
(1) selection and screening, (2) education and training, (3) coaching and counseling, (4) discipline, (5)
psychological tness-for-duty evaluations, (6) mental health services, (7) termination, and (8) leadership
and administrative strategies. Throughout, the emphasis on balancing the need for order and productivity
in the workplace with fairness and concern for employee health and well-being. [International Journal of
Emergency Mental Health, 2010, 12(4), pp. 275-286].
Key words: Employee coaching, tness-for-duty, management psychology, problem employees, workplace
Laurence Miller is an adjunct professor in the Psychology
Department at Florida Atlantic University, a clinical and forensic
psychologist in independent practice, and the editor of IJEMH.
Address correspondence to Laurence Miller, PhD, Plaza IV, Suite
101, 399 Camino Gardens Blvd., Boca Raton, Florida 33432, 561-
If there really is such a thing as an 80/20 rule, then it
certainly applies to the work of most managers in virtually
any kind of organization: 80 percent of a manager’s time is
spent supervising the 20 percent of employees who present
a problem of one kind or another. While they might differ
on the actual percentages, most managers would agree with
This article presents a practical program for managing
problem employees that grew out of my experience working
with law enforcement and public safety agencies (Miller,
2006b) where “employee misconduct” can have local,
regional, and national repercussions in terms of expensive
legal action, civil unrest, and loss of public condence. Ac-
cordingly, these organizations tend to have a zero-tolerance
policy toward such misconduct that may be even stricter
than that which most managers are willing to abide in their
workplaces. Accordingly, as my own work has expanded to
encompass public and private organizations of many types
(Miller, 2008), managers may feel free to pick and choose
from the following recommendations to custom design a
problem-management program that works best for their
particular organization or department.
Types of Problem Employees and Employee
The term problem employee encompasses an enormously
wide range of behavior, from tardiness and failure to complete
paperwork to bullying, harassment, and workplace violence
(Anderson & Pearson, 1999; Blythe, 2002; Casciaro & Lobo,
2005; Einarsen, 1999; Flannery, 1995; Friedman et al, 2000;
Johnson & Indvik, 2000; Kidwell & Martin, 2005; Kinney,
1995; Labig, 1995; Lowman, 1993; Miller, 1999, 2002,
2003, 2008; Namie & Namie, 2000; Roberts & Hogan, 2001;
2 Miller • Managing Problem Employees: A Model Program and Practical Guide
Sperry, 1996). While some extreme forms of behavior auto-
matically preclude retaining an employee and may well incur
criminal charges, many kinds of less serious and far more
common infractions or patterns of substandard performance
are amenable to change with the proper approach, informed
by principles of practical psychology. Accordingly, this sec-
tion outlines some common forms of employee problems.
Workplace aggression is dened as any act or threat of
violence, including assault, harassment, vandalism, or other
acts of harm or intimidation. It is important to note that overt
aggression is often the end-point of a downward behavioral
spiral that begins with other problem behaviors at work.
Workplace misconduct typically involves violation of
rules regarding time schedules, conduct, workplace relation-
ships, dishonest and corrupt behavior, and other nonviolent
infractions. Note, however, that the dividing line between this
category and the previous one can be quite uid; for example,
is “creating a hostile environment” by a male employee’s
wordlessly salacious leering at a female coworker a form
of misconduct, harassment, or other category of problem
behavior? Is threatening one’s assistant with onerous duty
to muzzle him regarding the supervisor’s bill-skimming
scheme a form of bullying, harassment, intimidation, or theft
– or all of the above? In general, the sooner such problems
are addressed and corrected, the less chance they have of
mushrooming out of control.
Marginal performance generally refers to “sins of omis-
sion,” and includes such infractions as tardiness and absences,
failure to complete work assignments, misuse of company
equipment and property, insubordination and problems with
chain of command, passive violation of company rules and
safety guidelines, poor customer relations, unprofessional
behavior, and special infractions related to an individual job.
We might also take a moment to consider what makes
a good employee (Blustein, 2006; Buckingham, 2005; Cas-
ciaro & Lobo, 2005; Collins, 2001; Ferris et al, 2000; Flin,
1996; Lax & Sebenius, 1986; Lerbinger, 1997; Lowman,
1993; Miller, 2003, 2008; O’Reilly & Pfeffer, 2000; Roberts
& Hogan, 2001; Sewell, 1992; Sperry, 1996; Stone, 2007;
Yandrick, 1996). For virtually all jobs, and especially for
occupations that involve any kind of independent judgment
or decision-making, there is a need for employees and su-
pervisors who possess good overall intelligence, especially
abstract reasoning, mental exibility, interpersonal creativity,
and problem-solving skills. Other related positive traits and
qualities include psychological maturity, common sense, reli-
ability, conscientiousness, and the ability to apply discretion
in an ethical and equitable manner. Leaders, supervisors, and
higher-ranking managers should be mature, seasoned indi-
viduals with a well-developed sense of integrity and profes-
sionalism. The challenge for all organizations and industries
is to nd or develop selection and training protocols that can
accurately identify, predict, and develop these positive traits.
Bad Employee to Good Employee: Practical
Solutions and Strategies
There are a number of points along the process of hiring,
training, and retaining employees that solutions to workplace
misconduct can be applied. Indeed, for most workplaces, it
is far easier and more economical to salvage a basically good
employee with a few correctible faults than to jettison him
or her and then recruit and train a replacement. The key is
to separate out the more common not-so-bad employee from
the minority who are truly irredeemable.
Different employees are dysfunctional for different
reasons, and organizations therefore need to develop an in-
tegrated system of interventions to target different groups of
employees at different phases of their careers. Importantly,
interventions must address not just personality characteristics
and individual behavior, but the organizational practices of
the companies in which the employees work. Management
can hardly model unfair or corrupt behavior and then expect
their workers to behave honorably. Executives and manag-
ers must provide the example they want their employees to
The following is a step-by-step model of employee selec-
tion, training, coaching, counseling, and managing that I have
developed for public safety agencies and that can be adapted
for organizations of all types, including public companies,
government agencies, private corporations, healthcare facili-
ties, and small-to-medium businesses (Miller, 1999, 2001a,
2001b, 2003, 2005, 2006a, 2006b, 2008). The different stages
should be thought of less as linear rungs on a ladder than an
array of cyclic ywheels, each phase shading into the next
and drawing from the ones that precede it.
Selection and Screening
The best way to prevent employee misconduct is not to
hire misconduct-prone applicants in the rst place. If only
IJEMH • Vol. 12, No. 4 • 2010 3
it were that simple. It’s surprising how few organizations
outside law enforcement, public safety, and some govern-
ment agencies, employ any kind of formal psychological or
informal behavioral screening measures of their respective
employees. Other companies contract with self-styled selec-
tion service providers who employ questionably valid screen-
ing measures and procedures. However, any hiring manager
can use his or her brain and a few psychologically-informed
principles of common sense to weed out job candidates that
have “TROUBLE” scrawled across their foreheads.
Basic screening-out red ags include drug or alcohol
abuse, a serious or extensive criminal history, evidence of
past repeated conicts with authority, misconduct or poor
performance in former jobs, chronic nancial problems, or a
spotty and inconsistent work record. A particularly important
feature of the evaluation is the candidate’s style of handling
anger and frustration, both in the past and presently.
Screening-in protocols should assess not just behavioral
styles and character traits, but the potential for learning from
both formal training and on-the-job experience. As noted
earlier, traits to look for include good overall intelligence
and problem-solving ability, emotional maturity, good com-
munication skills, reliability, conscientiousness, and the abil-
ity to use discretion and independent thinking in a fair and
ethical manner. Many of these traits, or their absence, will
have emerged during a careful pre-employment interview.
Yet even the best screening protocols and interviews
are really only behavioral snapshots of the employee’s
psychological qualications at the beginning of his or her
career with the company. Even the best pre-employment
screening protocol cannot necessarily anticipate emotional
and psychological problems that may develop during an
employee’s tenure with that company. Ideally, then, periodic
evaluations and reassessments should be a regular component
of an employee’s progress. Such reassessments should be
balanced with fair and effective monitoring, training, and
supervision throughout the employee’s span of employment
(Buckingham, 2005; Garner, 1995).
Education and Training
This includes not just training for the specic job de-
scription (bookkeeper, machine operator, stock manager,
salesperson, medical technician), but training in the necessary
“people skills” that make a workplace congenial or distress-
ing to work in. Certain interpersonal skills and qualities are
largely innate: you either have them or you don’t. Many
skills, however, can be taught, albeit to varying degrees that
depend on the potential and willingness of the individual.
Given the impact that interpersonal behavior has on em-
ployee satisfaction and productivity, it is surprising how
many companies leave this dimension to chance. Notable
exceptions include service industries, such as hospitality or
sales, where acting cordially is part of the uniform because
it directly affects customer satisfaction and the bottom line.
But why not apply these principles to all companies to make
them more pleasant places to work?
Skeptical managers should note that this type of interper-
sonal skills training need not be complicated or expensive.
The general models employed by most trainers who consult
to service-industry businesses and organizations are based
on principles of adult learning that involve a combination
of didactic instruction, behavioral participation, simulated
scenarios, and role playing. The emphasis is on develop-
ing a range of psychosocial and communication skills that
assume frequent – and potentially unpleasant – interactions
between customers and employees. Such exercises focus on
anticipating problems before they arise and utilizing a range
of exible problem-solving conict-resolution strategies to
defuse problems before they explode into crises.
But formal training goes only so far. Much teaching,
experience, and socialization of new employees occurs on the
job under the guidance and inuence of immediate supervi-
sors who transmit and model the corporate culture of that
organization (Collins, 2001; O’Reilly & Pfeffer, 2000; Pfeffer
& Sutton, 2006). Training thus has an important attitudinal
component: it socializes employees into their respective
organizations and inculcates organizational philosophies,
values, and expectations. These seeming “intangibles” have
great impact on employees’ behavior, something managers
should always be mindful of as they interact with their staff
on a daily basis.
Coaching and Counseling
Coaching and counseling may be considered more fo-
cused and individualized applications of education and train-
ing that directly address a particular employee’s problematic
behavior in the context of a supervisory session. Coaching
and counseling both require constructive confrontation of
the problem employee’s behavior, but it is important to
realize that such confrontation need not – indeed, should
4 Miller • Managing Problem Employees: A Model Program and Practical Guide
not – ever be gratuitously hostile, offensive, or demeaning.
Professionalism and respect can characterize the interaction
of a superior with a subordinate in any supervisory setting,
including coaching, counseling, discipline, or even termina-
tion. The focus is on correcting the problem behavior, not
bashing the employee. Supervisors should be rm but civil,
preserving the dignity of all involved.
The difference between coaching and counseling lies in
their focus and emphasis. Coaching deals directly with iden-
tifying and correcting problematic behaviors. It is concerned
with the operational reasons those behaviors occur and with
developing specic task-related strategies for improving per-
formance in those areas. Most of the direction and guidance
in coaching comes from the supervisor, and the main task of
the supervisee is to understand and carry out the prescribed
corrective actions. For example, a quality assurance inspec-
tor who fails to complete reports on time is given specic
deadlines for such paperwork as well as guidance on how to
word reports so that they don’t become too overwhelming. A
restaurant waiter who behaves discourteously with customers
is provided with specic scenarios to role-play in order to
develop a repertoire of responses for maintaining his or her
dignity without offending the eatery’s patrons.
One useful model of coaching is adapted from the
no-nonsense world of law enforcement and public safety
(Engel, 2002; Garner, 1995; Miller, 2006b; Peak et al, 2004;
Robinette, 1987; Sewell, 1992; Thibault et al, 2004), where
breaches of communication and conduct can have serious
and far-reaching consequences for both the department and
the community; similar models have been developed speci-
cally for the corporate world (Stone, 2007). Productively
applied to the broad universe of organizational supervision,
this protocol can be divided into ve basic stages:
Identify and dene the problem. This assures that the
manager and the employee are on the same page and prevents
any misunderstanding from the outset:
“There have been four customer complaints led
against you for discourteous behavior in the past
State the effect of the problem. This objecties the situa-
tion, providing the employee with a general rule of behavior
that applies to everyone. That way, the employee can’t accuse
the manager of singling him or her out for personal reasons.
“When customers experience our staff as
unpleasant to work with, they’ll want to take
their business elsewhere. In addition, they tell
other people, which hurts our business still
further. Lost business means fewer raises and
bonuses and possibly staff cuts. It also makes
the atmosphere generally less pleasant to work
in. As you recall from our new-hire orientation,
courteous speech and behavior are part of the
‘uniform’ we all wear when we’re at work.”
Describe the desired action. The manager should be
crystal clear about what he or she expects the employee to
do. The instruction should be repeated as many times and in
as many ways as necessary to be sure the employee under-
stands it. It’s amazing how people hear what they want to
hear, so the manager’s directive should leave as little room
for ambiguity as possible:
“There seem to be some common threads in
these complaints. Let’s review some of these
situations and see if we can come up with better
responses. You can utilize the suggestions we
discuss here or feel free to come up with ideas
of your own, but the bottom line is, your style
of interaction with customers has to change.”
[Supervisor and employee review specic sce-
narios and discuss alternative responses, using
discussion and role-play as needed.]
Make it attractive: motivate the employee. Although it
may sound like a cliché, the manager should try to make the
coaching session seem more like an opportunity and less like
a punishment. Employees will take correction and stick to
the program to the extent that they feel they have something
to gain from doing so – i.e. managers should try to inculcate
“We appreciate your efforts to be an aggres-
sive, meticulous, high-producing sales rep and
we know that better customer relations means
more business, which is better for everyone.
People like doing business with reps who make
them feel comfortable and welcome. These
ways we’ve discussed of interacting with cus-
tomers should help you shoot your numbers
Document and summarize. Again, nothing should be
left to chance. If a repeat coaching session is necessary, it
IJEMH • Vol. 12, No. 4 • 2010 5
will be essential to have written conrmation of what the
manager and the employee already discussed and agreed on.
“Okay, I’m writing down here that we re-
viewed this and that we both agree that you’re
going to make these changes.”
Counseling differs from coaching in two main ways.
First, it is less task-focused and more supportive, empathic,
non-directive, and non-evaluative; it seeks to understand
the broader reasons underlying the problematic behavior.
This is especially appropriate when the difculty lies less
in a specic action or infraction and more in the area of at-
titudes and style of relating, where there may be a general
factor accounting for a range of specic problem behaviors.
Second, counseling is less top-down directive than coaching,
and puts more of the burden of change on the supervisee,
encouraging the employee to creatively develop his or her
own solutions to the problem. In the counseling approach,
much of the feedback to the supervisee may occur in the form
of reective statements, so that a kind of Socratic dialogue
emerges, moving the supervisee increasingly in the direction
of constructive problem solving:
Manager: Do you know why I asked to speak
with you today?
Employee: Well, I guess there have been some
complaints about me.
[Discussion continues about the nature of the
complaints and their consequences]
Manager: I see you’ve been here three years
with a pretty good record. What’s been going
Employee: I dunno, maybe the job’s getting to
me. Ever since the 2005 downsizing and last
February’s robbery, it’s like everything seems
to drag. And the customers seem more of a pain
in the butt than ever. There are fewer big deals
these days and more of them seem to be these
nickel-and-dime small business operations.
Every little thing seems to tick me off. Oh
yeah, and things at home haven’t been going
that great, either.
[Some further discussion ensues about job and
Manager: Well, I’m glad you told me that, and
I understand things have been rough the past
couple of months, but I’m sure you understand
that we need to maintain a certain standard of
professionalism. I’m going to refer you to our
EAP for some counseling to help you get your
bearings. In the meantime, I’d like you to take
the next few days to think of some ways you
can improve how you’re interacting with the
customers. Jot them down, in fact, and we’ll
meet next time to discuss this further. You
do your part, and we’ll help you get through
Employee: Okay, I’ll try.
Manager: Well, I need you to do more than try,
because the situation does have to change. So
get back to me with some specics next week
and we’ll take it from there, okay?
If educative, coaching, and counseling measures have
been ineffective, some form of disciplinary action, ranging
from an ofcial reprimand, to suspension, to termination may
be indicated. Good discipline begins with proactive assess-
ment and monitoring of the employee’s behavior to detect
precursors and patterns of misconduct, so that interventions
can be applied as early as possible. Many companies are
too lax in this regard, not realizing that disregarding seem-
ingly minor misbehaviors is a perfect way of abetting and
encouraging larger transgressions down the road.
The opposite problem in many organizations is an overly
heavy-handed approach to discipline in an attempt to enforce
zero-tolerance policies. But zero-tolerance for bad behavior
doesn’t mean zero-humanity in dealing with the employee.
Discipline should be consistent, impartial, immediate, and
denitive – but not cruel or vindictive. Ideally, the goal
should be to stop the misbehavior, while salvaging an oth-
erwise effective employee. To this end, interventions should
be step-wise and targeted to the specic problem.
Again, like all categories, the boundaries between
coaching, counseling, and discipline are elastic and interac-
6 Miller • Managing Problem Employees: A Model Program and Practical Guide
tive (Grote, 1995; Serpas et al, 2003; Stone, 2007; Weitzel,
2004). One disciplinary protocol, adapted to the corporate
world from the domain of law enforcement and public safety
(Garner, 1995), species the following set of ve basic prin-
ciples of corrective action that should undergird any effective
Have the required administrative support before taking
corrective action. For discipline to be effective, the manager
must be able to back it up. To begin with, he or she should
be working from a standard Policies and Procedures manual
that species fair and equal rules for all employees. The
manager should also have the backing of his or her supervi-
sors to use appropriate managerial discretion and authority
in handling the matter.
Have as much background information as possible and
know the full story. Few things so erode the effectiveness of
workplace discipline as being uninformed and unprepared.
You may never be able to know everything, but whatever
you can nd out about the incident or pattern in question will
bolster the manager’s authority and leave the employee little
wiggle room to manipulate the situation. It also shows that
the manager is doing everything possible to be thorough and
fair because this is important enough for him or her to have
taken the time to thoroughly investigate the matter.
Know the employee as well as possible. This is a cor-
ollary to the above principle, but a little broader. A good
manager should always strive to know the people he or she
works with – not just to analyze or “psyche them out,” but to
know them as people, because then it’s much easier to tailor
an approach to them as individuals when coaching, counsel-
ing, or disciplining them is necessary (Miller, 2003, 2008).
Frame constructive criticism in a supportive context.
It’s important to raise some good points, not just the bad
(Weisinger, 2000). One suggestion is to sandwich any criti-
cism between two slices of praise:
“I know you’re trying to keep your orders
moving and we appreciate that, but some of
our customers are feeling like you’re rushing
them through their meals, so we have to work
on lightening up the intensity. And most of the
customers appreciate your not making them
have to keep asking for their drink rells.”
Try to obtain agreement, commitment, and buy-in from
the employee – but don’t be afraid to pull rank when you have
to. In the best case, the employee will feel like the nal solu-
tion is his or her decision, as well as the manager’s. That’s
why it’s important for the manager to rst ask if the employee
has any ideas of their own about correcting the problem.
Then they can work on them together to come up with the
best solution. In some cases, however, the employee will just
stare blankly or actively protest the manager’s suggestions;
then he or she has to make it clear that, ultimately, the man-
ager has the last say and it’s up to the employee to comply.
Psychological Fitness-For-Duty Evaluations
Where it is suspected that personal traits, disorders, or
stress reactions are causing or contributing to an employee’s
problem behavior, a formal psychological tness for duty
(FFD) evaluation may be ordered to (1) determine if the
employee is psychologically capable of continuing to fulll
his or her job requirements; (2) if not, then what measures,
if any, are recommended to make him or her more effective
and able to function up to the standards of the organization;
and (3) what kinds of reasonable accommodations, if any,
must be in place to permit the employee to work in spite of
the residual disabilities. The FFD evaluation thus combines
elements of risk management, mental health intervention,
labor law, and departmental discipline (Stone, 2000).
For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA), for positions that involve public safety workers, such
as police, reghters, and emergency medical personnel,
courts have generally tended to afford greater discretion to
employers seeking to require a psychological FFD evalua-
tion if there is a potential for that worker’s impaired mental
state to put the public at risk. This applies as well to medical
personnel, transportation workers, security personnel, and
those who work with children. One primary factor in such
FFD assessments is concern for liability, such as claims of
negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent supervision,
and so on; these issues are endemic in the public and private
employee sector. However, for most other jobs that don’t
involve critical safety issues, managers should consult with
their business attorneys before ordering any kind of formal
The following will summarize the main points necessary
for managers to understand about the basic components of
a psychological FFD evaluation (Rostow & Davis, 2004;
IJEMH • Vol. 12, No. 4 • 2010 7
Identifying data. The employee’s name, identifying
demographics, departmental referral information, name of
the evaluator, and dates of the evaluation.
Reason for evaluation. The main incidents, issues, and
referral question(s) that have led the employee to the examin-
ing psychologist’s ofce. The focus of the evaluation itself
should be specic to the work-related question at hand.
Background information. The information in this
section can be narrow or broad but, again, the scope and
range of such background data should be dened by their
relevance to the referral question(s). For example, conicts
with previous employers may be relevant; history of marital
indelity may not.
Clinical interview and behavioral observations. As
with all clinical evaluations, much useful information can be
gleaned about a subject from a good clinical interview. How
the subject answers questions and how he or she generally
behaves is just as important as what he or she says.
Review of records. Depending on the individual case, the
volume of pertinent records can range from a few sheets to
literally cartons of documents. The psychologist’s challenge
is to distill this raw data in order to summarize the main points
necessary to form a conclusion.
Psychological test ndings. Not all FFD evaluations will
include psychometric tests but, where they do, the measures
administered should be relevant to the job-related question
being asked. Usually, the basic areas covered include: general
intelligence; cognitive functioning (attention, concentration,
memory, reasoning); personality functioning; assessment of
mood; and screening for psychotic symptoms.
Conclusions and discussion. This section should be a
succinct summary of the main points relevant to the FFD
question(s), with documentation of the psychologist’s reason-
ing on each point. For example:
“Psychological test ndings are essentially
within normal limits, with the exception of a
tendency to disregard rules and conventions
and to responding impulsively under stress.
This is supported by the employee’s state-
ment that ‘If I know the policy is wrong, it’s
my responsibility to do it the right way.’ This
is further corroborated by records indicating
three prior disciplinary actions in his present
department, and at least one prior suspension
in his previous job.
“Overall findings are consistent with an
employee of average intelligence, no major
mental disorder, high ability and skill in certain
job-related areas (nancial gures and spread
sheets), but with a long-standing tendency to
disobey authority and respond impulsively,
but not violently, under conditions of stress.”
Recommendations. This is perhaps the most challeng-
ing section of the report, because here the psychologist has
to boil the ndings down to specic recommendations that
the manager can understand and utilize and that may affect
this employee’s entire career. There are several possible
outcomes to an FFD evaluation (Rostow & Davis, 2004;
Unt for duty. The employee is unt for duty
and is not likely to become t in the foresee-
able future, with or without psychological
treatment. Examples include the effects of a
traumatic brain injury, a longstanding severe
personality disorder, or a substance abuse
problem that continues to get worse.
Unt but treatable. The employee is currently
unt, but the problems appear to be amenable
to treatment that will restore him or her to t-
ness in a reasonable amount of time. For ex-
ample, a depressed, alcoholic employee agrees
to enter a 12-step abstinence program, attend
psychotherapy sessions, and take prescribed
antidepressant medication as needed. Follow-
ing the recommended course of treatment, the
employee will usually be referred for a post-
treatment evaluation to assess if he or she is
now t to resume his or her duties.
No psychological diagnosis. There is nothing
in the results of the psychological FFD evalu-
ation to suggest that the employee’s untness
for duty is related to a psychological disorder
or mental heath diagnosis per se. In such cases,
the employee will usually be referred back for
administrative coaching or counseling, further
education and training, or disciplinary action.
8 Miller • Managing Problem Employees: A Model Program and Practical Guide
Invalid evaluation. The employee has failed
to cooperate with the evaluation, has not been
truthful, and/or has shown malingering or
other response manipulation on interview or
psychological tests. Again, he or she will usu-
ally be referred back to management for further
Mental Health Services
One of the purposes of an FFD evaluation is to make
recommendations for education, retraining, counseling, or
treatment. Unfortunately, referral of employees for mental
health services when their job performance has begun to
deteriorate is often viewed as punishment within a disci-
plinary context, rather than as a proactive human resource
intervention that might forestall further problems and help
contribute to that employee’s better job performance and
overall health. This is especially likely if the referral for
counseling follows a particularly unpleasant and contentious
psychological FFD evaluation.
Ideally, the goal of company-referred psychological
treatment should be to use the minimum depth and intensity
of intervention necessary to restore the employee to her
adequate baseline functioning or to modify a pre-existing
pattern of problem behavior that interferes with her work
role. In some cases, when a certain level of clinical trust and
comfort has been established, employees may later opt for
further, more extensive individual or family therapy to work
on personal issues of special concern to them, once the origi-
nal departmentally-referred issue has been resolved (Low-
man, 1993; Miller, 2008; Quick et al, 1997; Sperry, 1996).
The best use of psychological services is to recommend
counseling to troubled employees well before the situation
rises to the level of a disciplinary action. Many employees are
actually glad to be afforded this option once they have been
given the endorsement by a manager to see the psychologist
without stigma, especially if they trust that this supervisor has
their best interests at heart. As with most recommendations,
the more buy-in obtained from the employee, the more likely
the process is to be successful.
Unfortunately, not every problem employee can be
salvaged. Despite all reasonable efforts at training, coach-
ing, counseling, psychological services, and constructive
discipline, employees who are persistently and uncorrectibly
underperforming or misbehaving must be terminated. In
some cases, such as theft, vandalism, or violence, formal legal
charges may have to be brought. If things have progressed
to this point, discipline should be consistent, impartial, im-
mediate, and denitive. The weeding out of the few truly
bad employees is a fundamental prerequisite for the ability
of the many good employees to serve their companies and
the public with skill and dedication (Albrecht, 1996; Fried-
man et al, 2000; Johnson & Indvik, 2000; Mitroff, 2001;
Namie & Namie, 2000). If it comes to that, there are some
basic recommendations (Grote, 1995; Labich, 1996; Miller,
1999, 2008, Lerbinger, 1997; Mitroff, 2001; Weitzel, 2004;
Yandrick, 1996) that can facilitate the process.
Some authorities believe that the best person to terminate
an employee is the manager or supervisor who has had the
best overall relationship with the worker. Others recommend
that the actual ring be done by a more objective and inter-
personally removed higher-up, while the trusted supervisor
remains a source of support to ease the transition. However
it’s done, a termination should always include a systematic
process of documentation. The key to effective termination,
in both the psychological and legal senses, is to make it as
clear as possible to the employee that this action is for a
specic reason, rather than for general attitude problems or
personal beefs. This should be clearly reviewed and docu-
mented in writing.
In an uncomplicated, or “cool” termination, your com-
pany’s own policies may dictate a variety of actions, including
the opportunity for the employee to complete certain work
projects, receive severance pay, or get insurance benet
protection for a specied time period. In an adversarial, or
“hot” termination, the disturbed or disgruntled employee
may have to be asked to leave immediately. He or she may
have to be escorted off the premises by company security or
police. Managers should not give the terminated worker time
to stew, either by delaying the inevitable or allowing him or
her to hang around and poison the workplace atmosphere
with negative talk or dangerous behavior.
Termination should be done at the beginning or end of
the shift. Most companies have a policy of not allowing
terminated employees access to the premises without escort.
Companies should have a strict ID policy in place and be
prepared to enforce it. Even in this post-September 11 world,
it is surprising how lax some organizations are with regard to
IJEMH • Vol. 12, No. 4 • 2010 9
security, especially with people they’ve known in the past.
Again, the employee should be treated to reasonable privacy
and respect, but should understand in no uncertain terms –
by the presence of security or police if necessary – that the
termination action is nal and will be backed up. He or she
should also be informed of any counseling or other services
offered by the company for the transition period. Providing
continued medical and mental health benets to help the
red employee over the hump is not just the humane thing
to do, but may be an important measure in quelling revenge
fantasies that could potentially lead to a violent confrontation.
In general, the least adversarial, embarrassing, and
disruptive method for terminating the employee should be
used. Law enforcement ofcers trained in verbal negotia-
tion and conict resolution strategies understand how much
cooperation can be elicited from a seemingly hostile subject
just by treating him or her in the proper manner: rm but
fair, no abuse but no nonsense – the difference between au-
thoritative and authoritarian, i.e. Sheriff Andy Taylor versus
Deputy Barney Fife (Miller, 2006). If cops can do it, so can
managers. It’s distressing to observe how a clumsy, heavy-
handed, gratuitously nasty, and unnecessarily humiliating
approach can turn an otherwise malleable situation into a
violent explosion – or ruinous lawsuit.
After a termination, the remaining employees will usu-
ally want to know what happened. On an individual basis,
company representatives should make themselves available
to anyone who would like to sit down and discuss in general
terms why the terminated employee is no longer with the
company. In particularly controversial or high-prole cases,
management should issue a company-wide memo explaining
the gist of what happened and why the actions were taken.
It’s not management’s obligation to offer rationalizations or
justications as to why a problem employee was terminated,
and the purpose of this informational brieng is certainly not
to violate basic privacy or to gossip about the terminated em-
ployee, but to use the opportunity as an educative experience
to inculcate company policies and procedures. Company
spokespersons should address comments to the concerns
voiced by the remaining staff about their own roles and
responsibilities, and lay the groundwork for more effective
communication in the future:
“You’ve all been oriented to our policy on
workplace harassment and violence. When an
employee consistently violates those policies
and has not been responsive to our efforts to
correct it, we have no choice but to let him or
Managers will want to consult with their legal depart-
ments about how much information they can provide, but it
is important that management control wild rumors and let the
remaining personnel know that, if they have a problem with
another employee or supervisor, they can bring it up without
fear of recrimination from their bosses.
Conclusions: The Role of Administration, Man-
agement, and Leadership
Most employees know when they are being treated fairly
and when they are not. As noted earlier, to fully address the
problem of employee misconduct and poor performance,
it must be treated as a system-wide problem that includes
departmental administrative policies as well as individual
elements of the human resource system described in this
paper, namely, selection, training, supervision, coaching,
counseling, discipline, and access to mental health services
when needed. These elements should ideally be integrated
into a structure that maximizes their impact on the individual
employee and on the organization overall.
Consistent with the leadership literature from manage-
ment psychology (Buckingham, 2005; Collins, 2001; Flin,
1996; Le Storti, 2003; Miller, 2006a, 2008; Sewell, 1992),
integrity begins at the top. In this view, the most important
factor for prevention of misconduct in an organization is a
leader who is mature, seasoned, stable, utilizes cognitively
exible thinking, and has personal integrity and a strong
personal ethic. Company leaders who set a strong, positive
tone for their agencies and back it up with rm and fair action,
should be able to expect an organization they can be proud of.
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Submitted December 12, 2010
Accepted December 17, 2010