As a manager we have enough situations which we do not like. However our 'gut feeling', a book, lessons learned etc. tells us to be tolerant.

However I don't found a clear bullet list on which are the main signs/factors/limits that our tolerance should stop and we should act with an axe.

I don't search for a definitive answer on this matter; I know that it cannot be done. Also, I don't imply that I (the manager) is always right. Just to learn some hints till when I should be patient/tolerant.

EDIT: I'm speaking about the (mainly) European culture. Our company profile is high-quality/performance, fast paced, rapid development of new products and keeping ourselves in the top of a competitive, (inter)national-wide industry.

We see our company as a family but we don't want to have some side-effects which come from here.

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    Voting to close as too broad - this is going to be very dependent on the culture at your workplace. – Philip Kendall Sep 23 '15 at 17:02
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    1. Co-workers eating the brains of their superiors is an issue that should be resolved with an axe. – John Hammond Sep 23 '15 at 17:09
  • @jmorc: Usually we're pretty tolerant with our workers. However sometimes this should stop. Are there some general guidelines when the tolerance should stop? – John Thomas Sep 23 '15 at 17:17
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    "Our company profile is high-quality/performance, fast paced, rapid development of new products and keeping ourselves in the top of a competitive, (inter)national-wide industry." Are you implying that other companies strive to low-quality products, general slowness and aim to be last in the competition with other industries ? It may surprise you but what you describe is probably not specific to your company but rather pretty common. – ereOn Sep 23 '15 at 17:22
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    What specifically are you talking about. There are innumerable situations that would be too much in the right circumstances. Currently this question is too broad to addess here properly with the quality of answers that we strive for. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 23 '15 at 17:36

In my opinion the deciding factor for tolerance will be whether the negative situation is going to be a lesson learned or a continuing trend.

Several years ago in the plant where I work one of the control system technicians decided to fix a loose wiring bus without shutting off the cabinet he was working in. It was low voltage and would generally have worked out without any negative consequences. This time it did not work out fine and his action led to the plant's control system detecting a false dangerous condition tripping the plant off. The lost production capacity was equivilent to several years salary for the tech.

This led to a management decision: be tolerant or drop the axe. In this situation management sat down with him and figured out if this was a learning experience. He was truly repentent about the mistake that he made and in the years since has earned a reputation as a conscientious worker. Had he not been repentent and not learned from the experience then management would have been right to let him go as he would have been a liability to the organization.


Immediate reason for coming down really hard on someone are:

  • The person who has caused deliberate physical damage to people or high value company property (My mom worked somewhere for instance where a person got fired for taking a hammer to a multi-million dollar mainframe computer.)
  • There is a possible safety issue (like a pilot who is drunk, he may not have caused any damage yet, but it is highly likely he will)
  • Credible threats issued by the employee
  • Loss of business directly attributable to his actions (especially if the actions themselves were out of line)

Reasons for immediate performance counseling and possible coming down hard if the person does not improve:

  • Refusal to do the tasks of the job
  • Insubordination
  • Failure to correctly complete tasks or completion of them in a way specifically forbidden
  • Failure to keep people informed of critical information
  • Harrassment of other employees
  • Failure to follow critical company policies (Definition of critical depends on the company, HIPAA compliance policies at a company that handles health care records would be critical, failure to complete timesheets that are used for client billing could be critical elsewhere, being five minutes late is likely to be less critical)
  • Not showing up for scheduled shifts without informing the supervisor beforehand (particularly in a business where the number of people there is critical)
  • Displaying inappropriate behavior especially out-of-control anger

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