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Laying Off an Unmotivated Engineer

Firing
Underperformance
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

2 July, 2019

Daniel Gorlovetsky shares how he dealt with a disengaged employee and the steps he took to try and resolve the situation.

Problem

I was a new CTO for a startup. After only a year and a half into my tenure within the company, the enter R&D team had left the organization. I, thus, had to hire quickly. My first hire was a senior engineer. He had a lot of experience and came from a background of working with good companies. However, after about a year he started acting a bit odd. He wasn't engaged with the company or motivated by the work anymore. He also wasn't optimistic about the future of the company. I needed to figure out the reasoning why and find a resolution to the problem.

Actions taken

I began by sitting down with this engineer and discussing the issue. We had a conversation about his motivation and what steps he could take to re-engage with the company. I decided to aid in this process by giving him the more spicy projects, the ones that engineers were excited about. Furthermore, I gave him opportunities to learn and grow by having him accompany me to conferences. Yet after a few months, even with these actions, he started reverting back to being unmotivated again. So we had another one-on-one discussion about the circumstances. It was in this second meeting where he expressed a lack of satisfaction. Consequently, it was decided that we part ways. Although the engineer ended up leaving the company, I believe that he contributed a lot during his one year duration with us. He put out a lot of fires during this time and was the only one besides me to hold off production. Because of his (mainly) positive performance I ended up giving him a recommendation.

Lessons learned

  • I realized that the engineer was likely burned out from the first 8-9 months that he worked with us. Though it may sound bad, sometimes working people to the bone is the only way to keep the business running. Burning out people can be seen as a crucial step in the process. However, it shouldn't happen in standard situations and should be used cautiously.
  • Given the circumstances I think that I did what was best for the company. If I were to engage in this same situation again I would probably do it all the same.

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