Cultural Misalignment: When an employee is not a good cultural fit

Terminating an employee is challenging at the best of times. However, it can be particularly difficult when the reason for the termination is cultural misalignment. This is largely because it’s not entirely the employee’s fault. They may even be A-players and hard workers, but somehow, they don’t fit in with your organization’s culture.

Although a difficult choice, termination is still inevitable. Your company has its own unique culture, mission, and values. All employees should buy into that culture to best represent your company and what it stands for. For example, if you have a ‘work hard play hard’ culture, someone who is very diligent but shies away from joining in fun activities with their colleagues may not be the best person for the job. Hiring such individuals could lead to potential conflicts, feelings of alienation, and poor productivity.

If you feel an employee is not the right cultural fit for your organization, it’s your right to terminate. Most states adopt an employment-at-will doctrine (bar Montana). This means you’re entitled to fire an employee for any reason, provided it’s not related to their race, color, age, gender, national origin, and disability.

You do need to tread carefully as you need to prove that the employee’s termination relates to business reasons that are in no way discriminatory. So, we will share the steps that you need to take to avoid the pitfalls of terminating those employees.


Have a clear written termination policy

Your termination policy should include details of all the possible reasons you may terminate an employee. You should include cultural misalignment in the list. Get specific about what that means. This way, you don’t surprise individuals who turn out to be bad cultural fits. Your policy needs to explain the termination process and how you will document the cultural misalignment.


Document the behavior of poor fit employees

Observe and document specific behaviors the minute you realize an individual may not be a good cultural fit. This may include lack of involvement in company events, fluctuations in productivity, and conflicts with co-workers or leaders. Create a transparent documentation process for recording these observations. Include conversations with the employee about the misalignment and coaching delivered. By documenting it all, you’ll build a timeline of events leading to the termination and show you did everything possible to help the employee settle in the company. Documentary evidence will help protect you from lawsuits, particularly if the person you release is part of a protected class.


Find ways to avoid termination first

It’s always worth exploring other options before going through the expense of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement. For example, you can give the employee some time to work with their direct manager to close any cultural gaps. This way, you show that you have explored all avenues in making the employment relationship work.


Alert the employee about the termination

An official letter should accompany any conversations around termination. You can hand it to the employee during the meeting. A meeting is necessary as it gives the departing employee a chance to ask questions and seek clarification. It also allows you to calm emotions and discuss the next steps in detail.


Treat the termination delicately

Again, the cultural misalignment is not necessarily the fault of the employee. So, it’s better to offer them the same benefits as you would to an employee laid off. These may include a severance payment, outplacement services, or career coaching. By offering these benefits, you’ll help smooth the employee’s transition to a new role, show that you want that employee to succeed, and minimize any ill-feeling. After all, the employee may become a highly accomplished team member in the right atmosphere.

Do not retain an employee who is not a cultural fit. They will cause disruption, reduce productivity, and could potentially influence other employees away from your organization’s values.

Learn from any hiring mistakes and make sure cultural alignment is part of your recruiting process! After all, the end game is to hire employees who are passionate about your organization’s mission and values. This will aid in creating a strong culture that drives long-term success.


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