“Hire slow, fire fast.” Have you ever heard that? Take your time with hiring, so you make sure that any potential employees are really right for your team. And when someone you’ve hired isn’t working out, get them out quickly. But firing someone isn’t as simple as that.
A lot needs to go into a decision of someone being fired, and we’ll get to that in another article. For now, these tips are for when you’ve already done that work and made the decision to let someone go. This is for when you are sure, and now you have to deal with the logistics.
It’s not a good day when someone gets fired. It’s the worst if you’re the one getting fired. But what’s second worst? Having to do the firing.
It goes without saying that you should be compassionate, but even if you have the best intentions, things can get messy. Firing is difficult to do right. Obviously, every situation is different but we have some pointers for you to make sure you stay on task, remain human, and don’t get fired yourself.
The most important thing is this: be understanding. Realize what the person you are firing is going through and be personally generous with them, while maintaining your professional distance. This is not the day to be especially warm. This is the day to be clear and recognize that your soon-to-be former colleague may not be at his or her best. Don’t focus on the fact that it is hard for you. You can mention it once to let them know you’re sorry, but that’s it. This is about them.
Here are some standard rules that will keep things moving.

  1. Don’t negotiate or rationalize your decision in any depth. The decision is made and there is no cause to re-litigate it, even as an intellectual exercise or to give someone feedback that might be helpful in the future. If you want to help them in the future, reach out in the future. Today is not the day.
  2. Don’t be cold, but don’t be too warm. This is hard for you but much harder for them (see above), so be humane. That being said, don’t try to warm it up or be their friend today (unless they have an existing relationship with you and they take the conversation there). Today you have to do something that isn’t great for them. Let them react the way that they react and show them you don’t have any need to elaborate.
  3. Don’t fill the silences. Once the message is received, try to get them to understand it and then go, without feeling rushed out of the door.
  4. If they want to know whether some particular issue was the cause, stay general and avoid all discussion of how there could have been a different outcome.
  5. Own the decision. Don’t just be the messenger or pin the decision on others. You are the voice of the decision. Let them know this is the right decision for your company.
  6. If they are surprised, let them be surprised, even if you think that they shouldn’t be or you warned them 1,000 times. You shouldn’t show that you don’t understand or that you don’t accept that this is unexpected for them. This is an emotional reaction masquerading as a cognitive one, and it’s a bad day for them, so let them have their emotional reaction.
  7. If someone is being offered support, such as outplacement, have the materials ready to share.
  8. Have a third party there; don’t fire someone alone.
  9. If someone is leaving immediately, escort them and make sure they return all tools/computers/and turn off access to information they should not have.
  10. If someone is not leaving immediately (i.e. their firing/letting go does not go into effect for some time) encourage them to take the rest of the day off after the meeting.

Once all is said and done, sometimes things get even messier. Getting fired can be very disruptive and disappointing and emotional, and people can have uncommon but severe reactions. Here are some tips to help you manage these (unlikely) risks.

  1. For safety reasons, sit closer to the door and have them sit father from the door.
  2. If someone emotionally deteriorates, for example crying to the point where they cannot pull it back together or freezes up and can’t really respond appropriately, get some HR help right away. If over time they don’t pull it back together, involve the family so you can help them connect to their support system.

Overall, it’s not going to be your favorite day on the job, but hopefully, a little bit of prep makes it a little bit easier. And try to remember that eventually, this will hopefully be good for them too, and they’ll be able to find a place where they can really thrive.

John Philbin

John is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life who, if he wasn't helping people with their careers, would consider himself a ghost researcher. His claim to fame is that he is a champion race walker (he actually came in second place).