How to Fire or Lay Someone Off with Compassion and Respect

Telling someone they no longer have a job, either because of poor performance or an organizational change, is difficult for everyone involved.  I don’t know of anyone who wants to deliver that kind of bad news and I certainly don’t know of anyone who wants to be on the receiving end of that kind of news.

But, as we know, sometimes it has to be done. Continuing to pay someone who is not contributing in a meaningful way or hanging onto a job position that is no longer required is not good for business.

When faced with the difficult task of letting someone go, here are some things to remember:

  1. Don’t drag it out.  Crossing your fingers, hoping they read the writing on the wall and will quit on their own is not fair to you, their co-workers or the individual.
  2. Be prepared.  Practice what you are going to say.  Be sure all required documentation is in order and in front of you. This is not the time to come across as uncertain or disorganized.
  3. Do it face to face.  A friend received an email over the weekend saying “Thanks for your years of service. Don’t bother coming in on Monday.”   Ok, that’s not exactly what the email said, but that was the gist of it. She worked for that company for six years and deserved better.  That was the coward’s way out of a difficult situation.
  4. Don’t pretend the meeting is about something else.  I know someone whose boss told her Friday that they would meet on Monday to discuss new opportunities. On Monday morning when she arrived at work, he smiled, waved from across the room, said “Come on in” and then, after she stopped to get some paper and a pen to take notes, told her that her position was being eliminated and she was out of a job, effective immediately.
  5. Don’t tell the employee it’s for their own good. After finding out she was not being given new responsibilities,   the HR representative in attendance told her “This happened to me once.  In ten years, you’ll look back on this and realize this was the best thing that could have happened.”  That is like going to a funeral and telling the loved one left behind “Don’t worry. Someone better will come along.”  Not cool.
  6. Don’t run away from negative emotions.  Same lady, same situation. After hearing the bad news, she started to cry and her boss said “I can’t deal with this” and left the room.  Reality is, after you deliver bad news, there is a very good chance you will then need to deal with anger, sorrow, confusion, fear or all of the above.  Stay calm, stick to the message and after it’s all done, give yourself a chance to breath.
  7. Explain what happens next.  If you can’t pay out immediately, when will their last cheque and record of employment be received?  Do you need keys, uniforms, pass cards back?

Turning someone’s life upside down is unpleasant, but it doesn’t need to be unkind or disrespectful.  Firmness and compassion can go hand in hand.

What do you think? What else can be done or should be avoided when letting someone go?

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