Firing someone is a scary task, even for the most veteran of bosses. Nobody really wants to dash the hopes of a young employee, nobody wants to cause financial strife within a young person’s life, and nobody wants to openly criticize another person if it doesn't lead to improvement.
But once you start rising up the business ladder, having to fire someone is an inevitability — one that can make you quite anxious. And there is definitely a right and wrong way to fire someone, so the questions soon becomes: How do you actually fire someone?
Why Would You Need to Fire Someone
Sometimes, employee performance is lacking. Sometimes, an employee is violating company policy. Sometimes they just don’t mesh with the company culture. Maybe it's not even your decision, but the decision of your employer. Whatever it is, the termination of an employee will inevitably become necessary. But it's best to give this bad news in a way that is succinct, clear, and appropriate.
Whether you’re trying to fire an at-will employee, an intern, or a salaried, contracted employee, it’s important to do so with finesse. That's largely because it's more complex than you might think. Things like a severance package, a final paycheck, and worker comp have to be worked through by HR and higher authorities.
There’s an art to firing an employee. Here's your step-by-step guide to doing it professionally and painfully as possible.
How to Fire Someone
1. Give a Warning
First things first, unless the employee has committed some atrocious act, everyone deserves at least one warning letting them know that they need to step up their game. Maybe that means putting them on an improvement plan, or having a sit down meeting where you lay out what they’ve done and what they need to do to get back on track.
Either way, it’s important that you communicate with your employees. Let them know what they need to improve. Ensuring you complete this task could mean a complete 180 on behalf of the person. And in all honestly, the process of hiring a new person can be just as exhausting—if not more so—than firing one.
2. Call in Human Resources
Sometimes, you just don’t know what to do when an employee continues to miss goals or deadlines. Maybe they’ve consistently been disrespectful in meetings, or have shown up countless times unprepared. By now, you’ve already issued a warning. You’ve told them that they needed to improve and they haven’t. Now, it’s time to take more extreme measures.
Before committing completely to firing this employee, it’s important to get HR involved. Maybe they have insights they can share with you. Maybe they can intervene and have a discussion with the employee. Even if they can’t, you should go to them for advice on how to approach the situation. If there's an employee contract involved, it is also important that HR is given a heads up. And it’s vital that they be involved from here on out if they weren’t already. They can put out any fires about wrongful termination, severance pay, and discrimination that might arise going forward.
3. Plan It for Early in the Day and Week
Always fire someone as early in the week as possible, but especially don’t fire someone on a Friday. That gives them all weekend to stew and vent. Ideally, take a Tuesday or Wednesday to let someone go. This way it’s out of your head earlier in the week, rather than later, and you can follow up with your team, reassign tasks, or start hiring a new employee, before the week’s end. This also gives the employee time to start their job search, file any unemployment insurance claims, and get their finances in order before the weekend.
On the same note, fire someone first thing in the morning. This way it’s not weighing too heavily on your head, and also so the soon-to-be fired employee doesn’t end up wasting their time on a project throughout the day. This also gives you and the employee plenty of time to gather company property, clean out their workspace, and ask any final questions without having to come back after hours.
4. Bring Them to Your Office to Do It in Person
You wouldn’t want someone to quit in an email, so why do you think it’d be ok to fire someone in one? Set a time to sit down with the employee in private. Book a conference room and take the time to have a conversation. Lay all your cards on the table, but be blunt.
But once the conversation has ended, don’t disappear. Make sure you take the time to sit with the employee you’ve just fired. Give them some helpful words of encouragement for the future. Tell them what you had hoped for and didn’t receive. Then let them ask questions. Let them get a word in. Once this is complete, and you give their hand a firm shake, your task is almost over.
5. Go through with It
One of the most important things to remember is this: it’s better to fire an employee and have it end poorly than to not fire them at all. By this point, you have your reasons for wanting the person fired. You’ve given them chances, spoken to them, and tried to make it work. And it hasn’t.
Don’t let fear or anxiety stop you from doing what has to be done. This can be especially difficult if you’re new to the firing process, or if you have pity for the soon-to-be fired party, but if they aren’t adding anything to the company and business operations, you need to find someone that will.
Most people will understand that their termination is not a personal decision, but a professional one, and they won’t hold it against you. You shouldn’t hold it against yourself either.
6. Keep the Conversation Short and Sweet
There’s no room for fluffy language and unnecessary small talk. By this point, the employee probably has some idea as to what is going on. By now, they’ve gotten their warning, and have been contacted by HR. If they haven’t improved by now, then it it unlikely they will excel in this position. But when it comes to the meeting, it’s important to be blunt. If this means practicing in an empty conference room beforehand, then do it. Let them know what the position initially entailed. Let them know the goals they met and the goals they didn’t.
Then, very succinctly, tell them that you must let them go—stay away from euphemisms however. You don’t want to be vague or indirect. But once you say your piece, make sure they fully understand it. You don’t want them to leave with questions.
7. Follow up with Your Team
Communication and transparency is key in the workplace. While it is inappropriate to discuss the firing with their fellow employees beforehand, it is vital afterwards. Send out an email after the firing has taken place to all of the members of your team speaking highly of the fired employee. Speak of their accomplishments and how sad you will be to see them go.
Then follow up with your team in person. Assure them of their place on the team and in the company at large. Ensure that they don’t feel insecure or shaken up after the firing has taken place. Whether the employee has been there for months or for years, it’s important to acknowledge them as a vital part of the business process and discuss strengths and weaknesses going forward.
Once this is all said and done, you will be able to get back to regular operations with the knowledge that you are ensuring the continued success of the business. It's now time to start the search for a new individual to fill the previous employee's position. Make sure your hiring manager knows what you're looking for, and let them know of the difficulties you've encountered in the past. This will ensure a smooth transition, and hopefully ensure you won't have to fire anyone else anytime soon.