What Is a Dead-Wood Employee?

A dead-wood employee resembles a fallen log.
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Think of a dead-wood employee as a fallen log. The log was once a brilliant, growing tree that provided oxygen to the atmosphere, food to plant eaters, shade to the overheated and shelter to numerous woodland creatures. At some point, the tree stopped growing and lay on the ground, no longer growing and providing only minimal use to anyone or anything. This sounds like a the beginning to a fairy tale, but it can frustrate a saint when this fallen employee works for you.


    Dead-wood employees were once productive members of the organization but over time began working less, gossiping more and generally finding reasons for not completing the tasks assigned to them. They become psychic vampires who place a drain on company resources and create an air of negativity that brings down the morale of everyone around them. These unproductive employees may feel entitled to the job because of tenure or past accomplishments, and they no longer see a correlation between a job well done and job security.


    Some common reasons for productive employees to become lackadaisical includes a feeling of stagnation as if no matter what they do, they will not get promoted or recognized. Employees may no longer enjoy their jobs but are afraid to leave. They lack the training or are afraid to do things differently than they have always done and they are angry that the work environment is changing around them. Personal issues, such as depression, divorce or the loss of a loved one has changed their attitudes about life in general.


    Not all dead wood employees are lost causes. If you can identify the reason for their reduced productivity, you can help them get back on the right track. Begin by holding a meeting and defining your concerns and expectations. Offer additional training if necessary and determine if personal issues, such as problems at home or illness, are affecting performance. If available, call on your company's Employee Assistance Program or the workers' union for help. Re-evaluate employees periodically and provide feedback and encouragement or correction.

Worst Case

    When you have done everything short of bribing dead wood employees with ice cream sundaes and diamond rings and nothing has worked, you may have no option but to fire them. Prepare for this eventuality by documenting each step you have taken to help the employee live up to your expectations. Include details about spoken and written warnings, additional training given, missed deadlines, customer complaints and any other details that substantiate the reason the employee is no longer an asset to the organization.

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