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How To Fire Someone

HowToFireSomeone_KennedyExecutiveCareerBlog

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 clear timing and agenda are important.

Here are the 3 steps of doing it properly and respectfully:

Before:

  • Prepare: what are the possible reactions? 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.
  • Don’t schedule this meeting 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 with you in case something unprogrammed happens. This can get very emotional and you never know how your opposite will react. I saw tears but 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 and blablabla.” 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 lie within 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:

This is the ugly 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 and I did not deserve it. However, Jorg was respectful and I do not blame him personally for what happened”…

Jorg Stegemann is a Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer. He is the Managing Director of Kennedy Executive Search & Outplacement, is running our company blog and writes for Forbes, Careerbuilder, BBC and other media.
  1. Gabriel Reply

    Should the manager discuss his move in prioir with the company’s lawyer?

    • Jorg Reply

      Gabriel, Thanks for your comment. Yes, HR and legal should be involved. This posting covers the managerial side.

  2. Todd Reply

    Interesting article and corresponding website. I appreciate the willingness to share the advice. I always here from my international colleagues that things are so different in Europe however your advice seems to apply equally to me and my organization in the USA while you are based in France with a France/Germany focus.

  3. Lorenzo Reply

    Thank you Jorg. Some subgestions sound evident, but when you have to do the dirty work sometimes you forget the basics because you stress and the hemaphy is natural…

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Lorenzo. I know, that is why I wrote this checklist, hoping it can help to take the stress a little away and avoiding mistakes are made.

  4. Kap Reply

    Some good advice there. My main board director had the ideal strategy, delegate all firings to his operating board director (me)!

    Always be objective, be factual, never let it get personal and never let the individual get into a discussion about disciplinary cases involving colleagues that they would know about from hearsay!

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Kap!

  5. Martin Reply

    Some good tips Jorg.

    I have to say I used to find making somebody redundant (so no blame on them) more difficult than firing somebody who deserved it. At least to the latter I could confirm why they were meeting (because we’d spoken before – and I’d confirmed in writing!) and ask them what the would do if they were in my shoes. On almost every occasion they said they would sack themselves. It did make life easier on so many levels.

  6. Jeff Reply

    Good procedure Jorg. I do take cognizance of IT issues before the meeting as well. I like to check and see if there was any unusual activity and make sure there is a timely removal of the individual from the network.

  7. John T. Reply

    I would also add never implement this type of employment action on a Monday. Statistics show that many workpkace medical emergencies such as heart attacks occur on Mondays.

    It also helps to have a friendly manager in the area to soothe the situation.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      John T. Good point. And never do it on a Friday neither as you do not how people will will cope with that over the weekend…

  8. Vicky Reply

    Having seen a few rounds of layoffs of attorneys, the general sentiment I’ve heard is that the escort to door with belongings is not received as a nice human touch. It actually has had the opposite impact because people (former employee and remaining employees) view this as demeaning, as if the person is not professional enough to conduct himself appropriately under those circumstances.

    • Kirk Reply

      Vicky

      Not all situations are the same. You can trust professionals more (sometimes) to behave in a professional manner, but also note that I did not say escort to the door, which is usually done by a security person. I walk them to their car, help them carry their possessions (if they need help), and personally wish them well. That is what I meant by a human touch.

      If there is a mass round of lay-offs you obviously cannot do this level of personal attention, but I will ask people to leave the building in a reasonably prompt period of time. I don’t want them hanging around talking bad about the company. I will station HR personnel near the entrance to make sure that people aren’t walking off with valuables, and ask people quietly to move along. In instances where I believed there was a security risk because the person may be emotionally unstable, I had under-cover security people nearby. I never had uniformed security involved and, unfortunately, I have been involved in lay-offs and dismissals of over 100 people. The whole point is to make the unpleasant situation to be the least humiliating possible. Let people keep their dignity. The best compliment I received on the process was from a software developer I had to lay-off. He posted on-line that the lay-off was the most humane one he had in the video game industry, and he was a 20 year veteran who had to go through several lay-offs.

  9. 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.

  10. PM Hut (@pmhut) Reply

    Hi Jorg,

    Many employers tell fired employees to type in a resignation letter in return for a recommendation letter (stating that the employee was a great resource) and for some sort of generous severance package.

    Do you recommend this?

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, interesting. I have not heard about this before. Does not sound right of course. Furthermore, a paper reference is not worth much in many countries and will be followed up by a call. If the call does not confirm, the paper is worth nothing. A good ref call takes 30 min, I react at each hesitation and if you are experienced, you find out if something went wrong…

  11. Darryl Reply

    Appreciate the subject raised by Jorg, which is a situation we sometimes face or require to advice and deal with under difficult situations. The pointers from Kirk and experience shared by Vicky are indeed valuable. There is no yard-stick or dotted lines on how this situation requires to be dealt because in certain countries I have experienced employees stating “Please put this on letter, only then will I respond”.

    The guideliness articulated are well appreciated. Many Thanks.

  12. Papathanasopoulou Reply

    Good process; helps a lot!! worth reading

  13. 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.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Thanks, Paul. Good addition to my posting.

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