The realities of firing people


It’s definitely one of the hardest things you have to do, and one I’ve had a ton of clients ask me about when it comes to “doing the deed.” Obviously, the emotion related to the task is going to depend on how close you are to the person you’re about to let go. The problem is that generally you’re best shelving the emotion regardless of who it is. The bigger of a deal you make during the process of letting your employee go (starting off by apologizing, talking about their contributions to the company and how much they meant, talking about your friendship with them), the bigger of a deal you’re going to project onto your employee. And once your employee senses they’re about to be let go before you actually get the words out, you run the risk of them getting defensive, emotional, or angry. You run the risk of them pleading for you to keep them on the job. None of these are good situations.

Remember, you’re running a business and that business requires difficult decisions to thrive. There are very few businesses, young or old, which can keep a latent employee on the books, and usually every dollar counts in order for all the OTHER employees to have a job. One of the biggest mistakes that face first-time firers is that they wait too long. They try to move the employee into different positions, they try to change the employee’s hours to “off-peak”, they try to isolate the employee if they’re not jiving with the other employees. Rarely have I seen this work to the point where the issue is solved. As has to let more and more employees go, it becomes a less emotionally charged mode of business.

So my advice to my clients? Do it quick. I’d almost even lead off the conversation with, “I wanted to talk to you in my office today, because I’m sorry to let you know that we have to let you go,” and then take it from there. Many people use the “rip off the band-aid” analogy, but I think it’s more like when a toddler falls on the ground and looks at their parent for their reaction, the reaction which will lead them to brush it off or cry. Usually, your demeanor in this meeting is going to be emulated by your employee. And aside from your business partners or top colleagues with whom you’ve consulted about the decision, don’t let this information spread among your employees before you’ve had the conversation with the fired employee. There is nothing worse than rumors among the ranks and allowing dissention and sour talk before you’ve actually let the employee go. If that happens, they’re going to come into that meeting with a lot of negative ammo.

On the housekeeping side, I generally recommend my clients offer them two weeks pay and don’t keep them around any longer than that very day. There is no way that person is going to want to come to work tomorrow, sit at their desk, and put on a smile, and your other employees are already going to know what happened anyway. Furthermore, if this employee decides to take it out on the firm, you do NOT want them to have access to email, logins, or any customer data. In fact, you should have your system admin disable their access to all this information the moment the meeting starts.

It’s a brutal part of being an entrepreneur and wielding the unwanted power to let someone go, and I know that probably some of my advice above also may come off as equally brutal. Trust me, the faster and most painless you can make this process, the easier all parties involved are going to be able to move forward.

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