Are Ultimatums in the Workplace Best Avoided?

by Ruaidhri Horan, Marketing Manager, Abrivia Recruitment

Several US celebrities issued ultimatums that they would leave the US if Donald Trump were to be elected as president. Among the most famous celebrities are comedians Amy Schumar and actress Lena Dunham who said they would move to Canada should Donald Trump be elected. However, in the wake of the election results Amy Schumer says her previous comments were “in jest” and Lena Dunham said she will not be moving to Canada as her “work isn’t done”.

Employers and employees alike can often get frustrated and are tempted to issue ultimatums, but this is rarely a good idea. In general, if an employee issues an ultimatum, the employer will treat the ultimatum as a threat and will avoid setting a precedence in regards surrendering to threats. Even if the employee issuing the threat is a top performer, employers generally appreciate that giving into an ultimatum will send a poor message to the rest of the team and may indicate a weakness on their part. The most common ultimatum in this regard is an employee threatening to leave unless they receive a pay rise or a promotion. Some employees will choose to use the “or else” ultimatum which doesn’t go down well with 99% of employers. “You better give me a bonus, or else!”. The best tack an employer can take is to give the employee the night to sleep on what they have just said and to withdraw their ultimatum the following day and if not withdrawn the employer will regretfully accept their resignation, rather than be held hostage.

Employers also issue ultimatums to employees but this should only happen as a last resort. Common ultimatums include “if you don’t increase your sales, we will have to let you go” or “if you are late again you are fired”. Employees will feel really aggrieved if an ultimatum is used as a first resort rather than a last. Employees feel they deserve a second chance and be given the opportunity to redeem themselves.

In essence, employer ultimatums may on occasion provide a short term solution but in the long term it will not get to the root of the problem. It is up to employers to determine whether they are attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole and will the issuing of ultimatums ultimately make any difference?