Article: What to do when a non-performing employee asks for a reference


What to do when a non-performing employee asks for a reference

When you don't have anything good to say about a former employee, what should you tell reference checkers?
What to do when a non-performing employee asks for a reference

Managers love giving references to good employees, that will help them land a job or will help employers get a good worker onboard.  But what should managers do when they are asked for a reference for an employee that they definitely cannot recommend?

Here are ways to handle requests, when you do not have anything nice to say about an employee.


It would be great if you could warn the employee in advance that you might not be able to provide a positive reference.  Taking a cue from what you have said, the employee might change his or her mind about giving your name as a reference.  Sometimes people might agree to give a reference in a moment of weakness, if they are caught off-guard or if they do not know how to decline politely.  You could get back to that employee and say something like “I know this is quite awkward.  But after you asked me, I gave it a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that I might not be a great reference for you.  I would rather tell you now, rather than you realize it at a later stage that you should not have sent the reference checkers to me.”

An easy way out

If the employee worked for you more than a few years ago, you could tell the employee or the reference seekers that you do not feel equipped to be their reference, since you knew the employee a long time ago and you are not familiar with their most recent nuances or their latest style of working; the kind of information that is usually provided during references.

Getting a release from giving a reference

If the employment was more recent and you cannot wiggle out of the situation with the above solution, you could always say that you are ready to confirm only the employee’s title and dates of employment and nothing else.  

Being Honest

Adapt an honest approach.  Be truthful, objective, professional and factual while giving a reference.  Do not allow emotions to enter the reference process.  Giving examples to support your statements would go a long way in presenting an all-round view of the employee’s performance.  If you have been a manager and have relied on references to make good hiring decisions, then it is time to return the favour.  Reference checking and the hiring process are after all to find out if the candidate and the job are a good match.  It would definitely not make sense for an employer to hire a poor performer and be stuck with them and on the flip side, an employee struggling and unhappy in a job that they might eventually lose sometime down the road.  

While managing people, give regular and clear feedback to your team from time to time, so that they know where you stand regarding their work.  When employees leave they would have a good understanding of the kind of feedback that you are likely to give them and it will not come as a complete surprise, when you tell them that you cannot give a good reference.

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Topics: Watercooler

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