How To Fire An “Irreplaceable” Employee?


About two years ago, we worked with a small business owner who wanted to fire a problematic employee but couldn’t do it.

That employee was the only one in the entire organization who knew the technological features of several key production processes.

The owner of the company admitted that he felt like a real hostage to the situation, and the same employee continued to behave extremely defiantly and in every possible way interfered with the work of the rest of the team members. The outcome came when the employee began to swear and scold the organization’s director in front of the entire team, and such behavior could no longer be tolerated.

It is pretty clear that no subordinate has the right to publicly show his disrespect to the leadership since this undermines his authority and in the future will almost certainly lead to similar acts of disobedience on the part of other employees.

How To Evaluate An Irreplaceable Employee?

Our example is striking, but such situations happen all the time. In our time, we have worked with several business owners who were afraid to chastise or fire an employee who possessed valuable knowledge or skills.

Yes, and in my practice of managing a team, there were cases when it seemed impossible to influence some irreplaceable employee, who was the only one who knew this or that part of an extensively automated system.

Our advice on dealing with an overly presumptuous subordinate is always the same: evaluate attitude, not how irreplaceable a person is.

If such an employee began to treat the assigned work with coolness, then is he so indispensable ?!

If this attitude implies dismissal, then so be it. Sometimes, you may have a tough time, but there are no genuinely irreplaceable people, fortunately for the employer and unfortunately for employees.

Six Useful Tips

We have prepared six valuable tips that will surely help you find yourself in a similar situation.

Use short-term tactics.

How did you get out of the situation when this employee went on vacation or was sick? Use the same tactic after he is fired. This won’t solve the problem completely, but it will buy you some time.

Dedicate significant resources to solving the problem.

Can you or someone else in your organization handle this employee’s job? It may take twice as much time and effort, but it is certainly possible.

Ask other employees to stay late after work or go out on weekends. It’s a painful move since you’ll have to pay them a hefty amount of overtime, but it’s a move that will ease the current tensions.

Recruit employees with similar experience.

If someone in your organization has already done this work, the answer is self-evident. Do your best to have this person train you or another employee on the job’s specifics as soon as possible.

Again, this option may involve working evenings and weekends, which means additional costs for compensation, but it is much easier and more profitable than any of the alternatives.

Ask the manufacturer for help.

If the problem is related to any hardware or software operation, contact the company that supplied it to you. They may be able to organize re-training for your employees, and you can try to hire one of their employees to prepare a replacement temporarily. In any case, the manufacturing company will surely be able to point you in a good direction for your search.

Having gotten rid of the problem, do everything possible to ensure that a similar situation is not happening again.

Organize cross-training for your employees.

As a result of such training, no single irreplaceable employee should remain in your organization.

You will be required to carefully document all the tasks and projects that your team is working on and keep track of which employees can perform specific tasks.

Document workflows.

In addition to introducing cross-learning, you need to create a list of documents that describe specific algorithms for performing each type of work. This is a rather dull and thankless job, but it must be done.

  • Firstly, this approach will protect you from the “headache” with another problematic employee in the future, and you will be able to focus on solving exclusively work issues.
  • Second, by documenting workflows, you can ensure that all tasks in your organization are performed consistently.
  • Finally, thirdly, this will lay a solid foundation for the continuous development of your company in the future.

Also Read: Websites As Digital Employees

On The Benefits And Necessity of Documentation

In my practice of documenting work processes, there was a case when one of the heads of the shops took up strong opposition. Rigid and uncompromising. Distinguished by a unique “southern” character, he cursed and resented every step in the process of documenting the work of his shop. However, a few months later, one evening at the end of the working day, he came to me and publicly apologized for his opposition.

It turned out that it was on that day that the head of the shop did not have the opportunity to go into production even once. He “launched” all the usual business in the shop, doing some urgent work received from the management. Imagine his surprise when in the evening, leaving his office for production, he did not find a single problem, not a single “blockage” that required his close attention! This is how it happens in life.

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