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How To Fire Someone

How To Fire Someone | Kennedy Executive Career Blog

Laying someone off is probably the hardest thing for a manager – but it is much harder for the employee. For most people, losing the job has a serious impact on their life as it provides the base to pay rent, dinner etc. A lay-off is often a personal tragedy and should always be the last alternative. It is a very sensitive, emotional and touchy issue and a timing is very important at all times.

Here is our “How To Fire Someone” guide in 3 clear steps properly, respectfully and ethically:

Before:

  • Prepare: what are the possible reactions when you lay someone off? Tears, anger or apathy? What do you know about the personal circumstances, is a family involved? Be prepared to hear terrible stories – but do not change your opinion. Some people will try to convince you to give them a second try. Make clear that your decision is non-negotiable, that it was hard to take and that you will not change it.
  • Program the meeting very short-hand, never do something like inviting someone on Friday for Tuesday next as your employee will spend a terrible week-end. Rather ask your employee to see you directly without an invitation.
  • Some sources recommed to lay off on a Friday afternoon as both the employee and the remaining team have the week-end to cool down and gossip among the team would be avoided. However, psychology tells us that suppressing and processing are not the same. I rather see the employee out on a normal week day and influence the gossip (see last point) instead of losing control over the week-end. Also, for the employee who has been fired, a potential week-end alone at home can be one more reason to make a depression.
  • When you have to lay someone off, don’t do it in your office but in a conference room: in case things get tight, you can walk out of a conference room and call security but you cannot walk out of your own office.
  • Never do this meeting alone but take another manager (preferably HR Manager) with you in case something out of the ordinary happens. It might become emotional and you never know how your counterpart will react. I have seen tears and I have also had people yelling at me.


During the meeting:

  • Do not smile, own the message, always remain respectful.
  • Bear in mind that you may be taken to court. Be very careful with everything you say and ask yourself if this is what you would like to hear again from a judge or read it on the internet.
  • Make it short, swift and clean. Avoid something like “You know, Tom, it hasn’t been easy for all of us etc etc etc.” This is an unnecessary torture and your employee will think “Tell me, what you want!”. I usually start “Tom, I am very sorry but I have to dismiss you today”. PAUSE….. Count from 21 to 25 so your opposite can digest what you just said….. Then explain.
  • If you lay off for for reasons that relate to the employee’s behavior, do not blame your employee. It may be tempting to do so and to say everything you always wanted to say. This can be seen as justification and you do not have to justify yourself. Hopefully, you have already said everything in several previous (and well documented) meetings. If the employee is too blame, s/he knows it. At this point of time, you will not win anything but only run into possible risks such as being sued for discrimination or else.


After:

  • If the employee will be sent home immediately, collect company possession such as keys, access cards or else. Inform IT beforehand to change passwords and block distance access to the email account by e.g. 11 AM. Do not let the employee go back to his/ her desk alone but accompany them to collect their belongings.
  • If the employee will stay until date X, make clear that you will give a positive reference in case the performance and hand-over will be correct. A negative attitude can have a desastrous impact on team morale and performance. Observe the behavior closely.
  • Communicate the news to the rest of the team on the same day, preferably immediately. Explain the reasons of your decision, do not blame the (ex)employee. Worst case you can say it proved not to be a good fit. Try to leave as little place as possible for bad rumours that might turn against you/ your company. At the same time, tell people how this action should be communicated to clients or other third parties.


Conclusion:

“Firing” someone is the worst part of being a manager but someone has to do it. If this someone happens to be you, be fair, firm and prepared. All you wish at this point of time is that your (former) employee will say “I do not agree with this decision. However, Jorg was respectful and I do not blame him personally for what happened…”

Jorg Stegemann
Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is the CEO of Kennedy Executive Search. Apart from running our company blog, he writes for Forbes, BBC and other media.
  1. Kirk
    Kirk Reply

    A couple of other pointers:

    1. Never say “you are fired”. I always say the employment relationship is ending.
    2. When you walk them to their work space to gather their things, don’t let other people bother them. I tell the other employees to move along. It’s a humiliating experience and you don’t want to make a public spectacle of it.
    3. When the person is on their way to the termination meeting. I cut off phone and email at their desk.
    4. I will walk them to their car, help them with their things, shake their hand and wish them well. You can make sure they leave the property and it is a nice human touch.

    Other than that, I think the article made great points.

  2. Paul Reply

    Just two small points to add. Ask the other person present to make notes of the meeting – useful should you end up in court. Also, clear the room prior to the fired employee having to back to their desk to clear their personal belongings. It is awful for them and the other employees. I have found that it has been useful to ask a Manager to take everyone out for a coffee once the meeting starts and to use the time to explain to them what was about to happen.

  3. Moritz Reply

    Hi Jorg,

    this is good advice provided the manager who fires the employee, is respectful and authentic all the time though the process, strives a balance of protecting his employers and the employees interest and demonstrates that he and the company do everything to not damaging the moral of the fired one more than required…

    And in case it doesn”t affect the employer negatively its more than helpful to share the real rational to firing the person.

    Kind regards
    Moritz

  4. Madhu Reply

    have gone through a similar situation in the past and I have seen tears (Quite understandable), because, the employee has so many commitments in life and has been completely depending on his job / income.

    My point is, the Manager should be kind enough to explain the reason why the employee is been fired / terminated. Don’t give vague reasons. Be clear and firm with facts and figures.

    This will not only help the employee understand his mistake, but also nullify the chances of him going to court.

    I always try to collect as much as information I could and make a case, before calling the employee.

    I know, it is really hard for a manager to fire someone. But, at some point, there is no other way, provided the reasons are genuine.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. John Reply

    First of all, we don’t fire people, they fire themselves. The only exception is when we haven’t fulfilled our promises and delivered what we said we would deliver.

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      John: I see your point and partially agree. However, there are exceptions: I have seen situations where the Manager made the mistake and hired someone who had not the slightest chance to succeed. I came in from the outside and saw that the employee was not to blame but the Manager.

  6. Garland Reply

    Jorg: Very good formula to follow and agree except in the AFTER section where if he/she stays on to x date he will be given a good reference. This business of being politically correct, defense against a suit is epidemic in the workplace today. As you know, some companies only give date of employment and limited information for this reason. However, when a person does give a reference he should be totally square about the dismissal. If not, and a person has a character flaw or performance issues then he is merely passed on to the next guy like a 4th grader being dumped to the 5th and can’t even spell his name correctly…just my opinion on the issue.

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