Barbara Corcoran Says You Should Always Fire This Type of Employee. Here's Why She's Right
Oct 28, 2023
What's the one kind of person you should always fire if you have them in your company? People who have a constantly negative attitude. That advice comes from real estate entrepreneur and Shark Tank Shark Barbara Corcoran, during an interview for the podcast Diary of a CEO. "I'm not talking about people who tell you what you're doing wrong--they're invaluable so that you can get better," she explained. "I'm talking about chronic complainers and negative people--you've got to get rid of them."
Corcoran has taken a lot of criticism on social media for her comments during that interview about firing such people on Fridays and the apparent pleasure she takes in doing it. While her critics have a point, it's a shame that everyone's focused on the day-of-the-week question because they're missing the larger, and valuable, leadership lesson she has to teach. Having relentless naysayers in your organization will drag it down and suck up your energy that could be much better spent building a successful company.
Here's more of what she had to say, and why it's so valuable.
1. Negativity is contagious.
Leadership experts from Jim Rohn to Warren Buffett say that the people you spend time with have a profound effect on your own attitudes and actions. "You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with," Buffett said in a talk at Columbia University. So the more other employees are exposed to that negativity, the more negative they can become as well.
"My attitude to the negative person was they were ruining my good kids," Corcoran said. "Because people who are negative have to have somebody else to be negative with them. They've got to talk to somebody and complain."
2. So is stress.
For most people, listening to a constant flow of negative comments and complaints creates some stress. That can be especially true if the complaints and negativity are coming at them all day within their workplace, just when you want them to feel enthusiastic, optimistic, and engaged. Stress, especially the "bad stress" that comes from negative sentiments like these isn't good for anyone. On top of being unpleasant and threatening your employees' (and your) emotional health, bad stress can cause some very scary health problems. Working, especially at a startup, is stressful by nature, so you and your employees should do what you can to fight stress.
Unfortunately, bad stress is also contagious. So if you have someone or several someones within your team spreading negativity, and complaints, and very likely causing others to worry about your company and their roles there, you need to stop that dynamic as soon as you can.
3. Negative employees use up resources that are needed elsewhere.
If you have a negative person in your organization, complaining about everything they think isn't right, chances are your other employees may be spending some of their time and energy trying to improve on or deal with whatever they're complaining about. Even worse, you may be spending a lot of your own time and energy dealing with that person and their complaints as well.
"Why are you so irked by complainers?" podcast host Steven Bartlett asked Corcoran.
"They're thieves," she answered. "They take your money away and they take your energy, and the most valuable asset you have is your energy. And if they take your energy away, you're not going to deliver enough to everybody else--there's not enough to go around."
Corcoran added that she sees negative people as having their hands in her pockets. "When you have a team filled with very positive people, it's like they're stuffing your pockets with money and jewels all the time," she said. "It's the way you want to be. It's those people you want to be around."
4. The sooner you terminate a negative person, the better.
Eliminating someone who's a drag on your organization will likely make you and your team happier and more productive. So (keeping legal issues in mind) you should always do it as soon as you can.
Corcoran angered people, though, when she talked about the actual act of firing negative people over the years. "I loved firing people on Friday," she said. She recounted how she would stop by the unsuspecting employee's desk and ask them casually if they had any free time on Friday. "I couldn't wait till they came in to fire them! You know why? Because I picked out individuals who were negative."
I admire Corcoran tremendously, and I'm honored that she endorsed my book Career Self-Care. I also realize that she's spent her career in New York City commercial real estate and in network television, two of the most cutthroat and least sentimental business environments there are. But those comments were unfortunate. First, because they distracted attention from the very valuable insights she shared during the rest of the interview, and second because they displayed a lack of the empathy that even negative people deserve.
Although HR experts once advocated Friday firings, more current thinking is that the kindest time to fire someone is in the middle of the week. Most people won't asborb the details of things like health insurance and severance at the moment that they learn they're losing their jobs. They'll have follow-up questions and may not want to wait through a weekend to get those questions answered. And firing someone at the beginning of the week (assuming you do it in person) may make them feel like coming in to work was a waste of time. Also, though someone may be a detriment to your company, to take pleasure in firing them is to willingly ignore the very real pain you are causing that person and perhaps their family, even if it's unquestionably the right thing to do.
There's a positive aspect to Corcoran's attitude toward firings, though, and it's this: She doesn't sit on her hands, she doesn't agonize, she doesn't second-guess herself, and she doesn't waste time and energy trying to turn a negative person into a positive one. (She told Bartlett she tried that once and learned that it couldn't be done.)
That's a valuable lesson, too. If someone doesn't fit your organization, the sooner you get them out of it, the better it will be for both you and them. It's best to do it quickly, cleanly, and with as little self-blame as possible. Just don't do it on Friday.