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How to Fire Someone, Humanely

Showing compassion will ease the pain for both parties

18th October 2016 | People & Management

Firing Someone Humanely

One of the most difficult tasks facing any employer is firing an employee. Whether it is because the business needs to downsize, their role is no longer required, or because their work is simply not up to scratch, it is not something most decent-minded employers relish.

There are established rules and guidelines on the legal formalities – which should of course be followed very carefully  – however the human side is often overlooked. You are about to deliver a shock to a fellow human being and seriously disrupt their work and personal life. Planning for the ‘soft’ issues is just as important as the ‘hard’ ones.

10 Tips for Firing with Feeling

Telling someone they no longer have a job is unpleasant. However, the shock and upset – and your discomfort – can be minimised by following a few simple guidelines.

  • Think the decision through, once more time. Spur of the moment decisions are rarely a good idea in business, and when it comes to firing someone, it is nearly always bound to end badly. Whatever your reasons, give yourself time and space to think through your decision – and plan how to act on it in a cool, calm and collected manner.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Once your decision is made, get on with it. You owe it to the business, colleagues who may feel they are carrying a poor performer, and ultimately to the soon-to-be-former employee.
  • Meet the employee in person. Giving someone the sack via an intermediary – or, worse, by text message or email – comes across as callous and cowardly. Even if you are having to fire someone for misconduct, a face-to-face meeting gives you a greater sense of authority.
  • Firing Humanely - UpsetMeet in private. Regardless of the reasons for your decision, people deserve to be treated with some dignity and respect. Allow them to save face and deal with the immediate reactions out of view of their colleagues. No one wants an audience when receiving bad news, as it will only add embarrassment to the other emotions they will be feeling. Have a box of tissues handy.
  • Get to the point quickly, but be kind. This is no time for small talk or a lengthy introduction to the subject. Get on with the bad news. Deliver it with compassion and understanding and recognise how much of a shock this may be, but be careful not to apologise for making the decision itself.
  • Offer a full explanation. There is nothing worse than being let down and not understanding why. Whatever has led to your decision, give your employee a full, frank – but as gentle as possible – explanation. They may not agree with your decision or your reasons, but they will respect you for being honest and open about it, and will not be left wondering.
  • Allow the employee to ask questions – without being drawn into a lengthy discussion. You want to make the meeting short and to the point, without it turning into a brusque, one-sided judgement. Allow the employee to have their say and ask questions – it is a natural thing to want to do. But let it be known – firmly but fairly – that your decision is final and you’re not there to be talked round.
  • Accentuate the positives. No, firing someone or getting fired is not pleasant, but it doesn’t mean the final conversation has to be all negative. Praise the employee for their strengths, thank them for their contribution and their time at the company, and wish them well in finding new work.
  • Consider exit logistics. Have a plan in place for the employee to say their goodbyes, collect their belongings and receive their final payslip. Be ready to explain these in the meeting, it will take some of the stress out of the situation and help the exit go smoothly.
  • Keep it impersonal. Whatever your reasons for letting someone go, avoid criticising anyone personally. It will only cause emotions to run even higher and potentially tempers to fray, without benefitting either party. If this is a performance issue, focus on the performance and not the person.

Ultimately, business is business, and part of being an effective decision maker is having the strength to stick with your convictions. However, when those decisions affect other people, it does not mean you have to lose your human touch. Indeed, strong leadership is about being able to balance toughness with sensitivity. Being able to handle difficult situations in a calm, professional, understanding way will earn you respect.

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