How to Fire Someone Without Being a Total Dick

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Photo: Littleaom (Shutterstock)

Getting fired is devastating. Hell, even getting called into a meeting unexpectedly can be scary for an employee if their mind wanders to the possibility they could be fired. While this experience is rough on the person being fired, it can also be tough on the person doing the firing, especially if the decision is out of their hands. If you’re ever in a position to let someone go, here’s how to do it without being a dick.

Be direct and get to the point

Schedule the meeting for as quickly as possible to avoid giving the soon-terminated employee time to catastrophize about what’s going on. If your company is doing mass layoffs, you’ll have to submit a notification under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, and if your company is big or noteworthy enough, the impending layoffs could make the news. Don’t let employees find out that way; it’s not fair. Be decisive to avoid prolonged anxiety. (If news of the layoffs does leak among staff, call an immediate company meeting. This happened at a company I worked at once, and while it sucked to learn it was true that people were being laid off, it was better to have confirmation and not panic over rumors.)

Don’t make the firing about yourself or spend too much time talking around it. “One of you has a job and one of you doesn’t,” said HRUTech’s Tim Sackett, author of The Talent Fix: A Leader’s Guide to Recruiting Great Talent. You might be worried about not coming off like a total asshole, but there’s a power imbalance happening here that you can’t change, so don’t try to overcorrect and be too much of the good guy. Sackett added, “Make it quick, but not so fast that it feels impersonal. We are trained in HR to get in and get out in terminations. Only say the minimum.”

Even if the other person gets defensive or upset, keep in mind they’re going through something rough that is going to really impact them while you keep going back to work every day. Let them express themselves within reason, but know that this has a better chance of going well if it’s not a surprise. You should be having regular meetings—or at least conversations—with employees so they know where the company stands financially and where they stand in terms of their performance.

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“People are surprised they are fired because no one had the simple courtesy to sit down with them when their performance wasn’t meeting expectations and actually try to help them correct it,” said Sackett.

Make it easy for them to get resources

If the loss of a job is associated with a layoff, it’s likely the company may offer some kind of temporary benefits package or pay to those who will depart. Have this information ready when you meet with any impacted employee. Reach out to the human resources department, get the best contact person for anyone losing their job, and, if possible, pull together a folder of information they’ll need regarding what comes next—whether it’s about turning in their computer or receiving their severance.

If you live in a state where unemployment benefits are available to people who’ve been fired, print out a sheet of information on how they can apply for it. These small actions can be really helpful, especially for someone who’s shocked to suddenly find themselves without an income source.

Sackett called firing “a traumatic event for the employee,” explaining, “You are taking away their livelihood and there will be emotion, and most likely, they will hate you. That’s part of the gig of being a leader of people. You take it, you act respectfully, and offer the help you can in their transition.”

 

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