We all know that with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately in business great responsibility also comes with one of the worst parts of the job – having to fire someone.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in that position and you want some guidance to do it right. Good news! Your employee is already in safe, sympathetic hands and that’s half the battle to a peaceful resolution.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt to bear the following in mind:
- Do it in person. Don’t be THAT guy who fires someone by emoticon. Dignity and empathy are the order of the day here and those require you to be face to face.
- Keep it private. This is going to be difficult enough without having an audience to consider. Pick a neutral zone, perhaps a conference room away from all your co-workers. And no, you might think it will soften the blow if you meet over lunch at a restaurant, but it won’t - and there’s far more chance you’ll leave with food on you.
- Think before you act. Even if it appears the employee has taken a running leap beyond the bounds of their contract, take some time to make absolutely sure you’re within your right to terminate their employment. You don’t want any legal complications later on.
- Be ready to answer ‘why’. Every employee will ask you this, so it’s good to prepare a brief summary of those aspects of their behaviour or work that you’ve been unhappy with and have previously warned them about. Just don’t go into too much detail. You want to keep it as civil as possible and rehashing what you perceive to be their faults is not only kicking them while they’re down, it could lead to a fight.
- Keep it clear and concise. Approach the meeting with as much compassion as possible, but don’t give anybody false hope. Make it clear that your decision is final, that their employment is being terminated and when they should expect to leave. Give them any important information they need (such as final pay), but don’t get dragged into discussions or negotiations – it’ll only prolong the pain.
- Don’t go in alone. It’s recommended to have a third person in the room, usually someone from Human Resources. Not only will they act as a witness to make sure there’s no confusion later about what was said, but they’ll also help to keep the meeting on track.
- Never on a Friday. If the person will be working their notice, it might not be best to fire on a Friday. That’ll give them the chance to stew over the weekend and return spoiling for a fight the following week. There’s a school of thought that says the earlier in the week the better for this very reason. (But probably not Monday. That would just be mean.)
- Protect the business. If you decide they need to leave immediately, then politely, discreetly, but firmly escort them off the premises - following a quick stop at their desk to gather any personal items. Minimise contact with other employees for everyone’s benefit and make sure they return all company property before they go. Oh and don’t forget to cut their system access just before the meeting (or just don’t let them log into their computer after the deed is done). We’ve all done stupid things in the heat of the moment and you don’t want to have to explain any system sabotage.
- Tell the wider team immediately. The longer you wait, there’s more chance the employee’s co-workers will hear it from other sources and it might not paint you in the best light, no matter how well you thought you handled it.
- End on a high note. It’s going to be a tough conversation for both parties. The least you can do is end it positively if you can. Note the contributions of value they’ve made and wish them luck in finding a role that’s a better fit. After all, the hiring process hasn’t always been perfect and a bad hire isn’t always the candidate’s fault . Sometimes it’s just not a good match and this way you both get to move onto better things.