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Dealing with worker who is looking for a new job

Q. I have an employee who I believe is actively seeking other employment. He has told me he has been offered a second shift job but won't take it because of the "shift". He is a maintenance man making $15/hour, and is very helpful to me and makes my job 100 times easier.

We are trying to sell the company and he will not commit to ongoing employment if and when we sell because he only likes working with me. He does not like my partner. He has been offered a retention bonus of $25K if he stays with the new owners for 12 months.

His bullheadedness is jeopardizing his future. I need to know if I can fire him for looking for another job without having to pay unemployment. And am I a fool to keep him employed if he is manipulating us for a bigger raise?

A. Your relationship with this employee is quite complex. You value his abilities, and the support he provides for you. You and the potential new owners believe he adds enough value to offer him a $25K stay bonus. Meanwhile, you are wondering if you are being manipulated for his financial benefit.

Employers who are frustrated with employees often overlook the most important parts of an employee's role at the company - their professional contributions. You describe a valued employee who supports your success, and has the chance to play a valued role in the sale of your company. From what you have described, I see an employee sending signals about his discomfort with what his future may hold, where his professional relationship and reporting structure will be, and a desire to have his value confirmed either with an external offer, or perhaps a raise as you indicate.

You, your partner, and the potential new owners have a clear vision about what you would like to see happen. Employees are most often not privy to the details about what a complex plan looks like, or how they will be impacted in the short or long term. Employers need to recognize that employees want to understand the changes they face, how it will happen, and the expected impact of those changes.

While his stay bonus looks good, your employee is concerned about his reporting structure. He has let you know he enjoys working for you, and can deliver great value. He is less comfortable reporting to others, as evidenced by his relationship with your partner. He may be concerned that he will not be able to successfully report to the new owners for 12 months which may prevent his receipt of the stay bonus.

Many employees whose organizations are going through transition begin to interview externally to see what their options are. When employees feel "disconnected" from their company, or even worse – dispensable - employers have the opportunity to communicate and make change more manageable. There are other options, but holding all accountable for professional behavior, positive interactions, and productivity will most likely provide the best outcome.

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