To be a highly successful leader you must know how to deal with employees that are not productive. It would be easy to say that all unproductive employees should receive their walking papers, but that solution may not be best for the company in all cases. There are many costs associated with both involuntary and voluntary turnover, such as possible severance cost, recruitment cost, training cost, as well as lost production time and decreased productivity during the learning curve for the new employee. All of these replacement costs can add up to thousands of dollars per employee. Even if you do decide to replace the unproductive employee, since the new employee is untested there is no guarantee that they will be able to perform better. I am not saying that you should not get rid of unproductive employees, but that you should utilize all of the tools at your disposal to increase the employee's productivity level before you remove them from the company.
Just as doctor would not operate before they diagnose the illness, you should also diagnose your employee's productivity issues before you take any drastic action. There are many possibilities as to why your employees could be unproductive. When the employee's unproductiveness is derived from the work environment, you will achieve higher productivity levels once those obstacles have been removed. Many productivity problems can be attributed to the equipment that the employees use. If an employee has a computer that is slow and locks up all of the time, or a printer that jams frequently, there are many unproductive hours waiting for the equipment to be fixed, and possibly trying to recover or redo any work that was lost in the process. Other environmental problems could be easily addressed as well; such as employees who spend too much time socializing with each other could be moved farther apart.
Productivity issues that stem from the lack of knowledge of the job duties and expectations can be addressed through additional job training and employee communication. However unproductiveness derived from personal issues is typically much more difficult to address and often cannot be corrected in order to achieve desired productivity levels. Personal issues such as poor motivation and laziness are not likely to be corrected over the long-term, whereas the areas of personal family issues could possibly be addressed through a flexible work schedule, a comprehensive benefits program to treat both employee and dependent illnesses, or an Employee Assistance program (EAP) to assist with other personal employee issues.
If addressing the environmental and personal issues that hinder productivity does not lead to productivity increases, you will need to put your employee on a performance improvement plan. That performance improvement plan should include the expected outcome that must be achieved, the specific actions that needs to occur to improve the performance, and the timeframe in which to complete the performance improvement. Should no performance improvement occur within the specified timeframe, then the employee should be terminated.
In the long run it is more cost effective to keep your current employees than to replace them, provided that their performance can be improved to an acceptable level. Through the process of diagnosing and addressing both the environmental and personal productivity roadblocks, you may also find that instead of just improving the non-productive employees, you have increase the productivity level for the rest of your employees along the way.