How To Let Go An Employee
On Good Terms

In an ideal world, firings should never happen. But the truth is, even a thorough and mindful hiring process doesn’t guarantee that no one gets fired for poor performance, unproductive attitude, or incompetence.

Managers admit this is the part of their job they hate most. It’s difficult and stressful for them not less than for the fired employees – but often it is an inevitable process. To handle it appropriately and terminate an employee on a positive note, tact and empathy are necessary.

Terminating an employee gracefully and ending the relationship on good terms is not only about manager’s and team member’s feelings. Frustrated employees, feeling treated unfairly, can leave negative reviews about your company and personally you as a manager, affecting your reputation and narrowing down the pool of potential new talents for your company.

Some managers handle firings by intuition, using their emotional intelligence to mitigate the effects of the tough talk. But if you don’t feel the strength to run the conversation in a tactful and compassionate way, follow some recommendations to lead it to the result you need.

1. Communicate about performance problems

Performance-related firings should not come out of. Spot poor performers early, and give them a chance to improve their productivity. Make sure they understand their responsibilities and KPIs, and go through them once again if necessary.

Also, make sure you explicitly let the employee know that you see their performance or attitude as problematic. Do a performance review before proceeding with termination, and look for ways to improve it and avoid firing. What you can do as a manager is try to figure out and, if possible, eliminate the reasons of low productivity. For example, approving an extra leave may help solve personal problems that cause issues at work. Another option may be transferring person to another position or department that fits their abilities more.

Of course, discussing performance issues is only acceptable in person and on one-on-one sessions. Feedback about work results should be treated as a confidential information, especially when it’s negative.

Before you make the decision on firing the employee, make sure they’ve received all related verbal and written warnings. Some employees tend to believe they never actually get fired, so emphasize the gravity of their performance problems and be clear about possible consequences.

2. Make sure you’re acting legally

Before making the decision on firing the employee and setting their termination date, check their contract (if they’ve signed one). Remember that you cannot fire an employee for the reasons not listed in the contract – so make sure it matches at least one of the reasons stated in the contract. Also, make sure you comply with federal and state labor laws.

There are other things to remember that might seem obvious: not firing an employee for taking a medical leave, not firing due to personality mismatch or as an act of discrimination, etc. In any case, a good idea would be consulting a lawyer before making this decision.

3. Run a face-to-face meeting to tell the news

If nothing worked and you’ve decided to terminate the employee, the only way to communicate about your decision is running a face-to-face meeting. Emails, telephone calls, or letters don’t work – deliver the news personally. Otherwise, you will create an environment where people will feel blindsided and be not willing to trust you.

Cut to the chase right away, and be clear in communicating about the reasons why the employee got fired. And, while expecting them to hear your message, keep in mind that people tend to misconstrue inconvenient information and later present it in a different interpretation.

Keep in mind that lawsuits are not an uncommon consequence of termination. So be sure to have someone (ideally from HR, but any trusted employee can work if you don’t have an HR department) as a “witness” who can confirm that you acted legally and ethically in case of a conflict.

4. Frame it in a tactful way

When choosing the right wording, be sure to frame the decision as non-personal. Think of focusing on the logistics and poor fit: your needs are X, the employee’s talents are Y and Z, so they just don’t match your current needs and don’t have an opportunity to show their best work here.

In case if you’re firing a worker for poor performance and bad attitude in general, be very direct about this. By not pointing out performance issues that can and need to be fixed, you’ll be doing a disservice to the employee.

Remember here that being direct doesn’t mean being disrespectful or rude: frame this as an issue that needs to be corrected, and express your confidence that the employee will be able to handle this successfully.

And, as you’re not alone in feeling awkward about having the dismissal conversation, there are many scripts on the Internet that you can adjust to your specific scenario. It will help you handle the conversation better and avoid typical mistakes and awkwardness.

5. Express gratitude

Even if productivity and contribution were below your expectations, thank the person for them. This is especially true for those who’ve been trying hard but eventually didn’t manage to meet performance requirements. Suggest ways to improve productivity, develop necessary skills, and grow professionally.

You can also offer them to provide a reference for future employers. Of course, don’t do it if you see that the person is a poor fit for that specific type of job or if that can damage your reputation in any other way. Think about other ways to cushion the effect – for example, offer a severance package if your company’s financial resources allow that.

6. Inform your team

Letting other employees know what happened is as important as having a respectful and compassionate conversation with the fired employee themselves. Inform them about the decision, and emphasize that this is about performance or mismatch with the company’s current needs, not about personality. Also, focus on possible changes in responsibilities and workload distribution on the team caused by the firing.

Tell the truth and be as clear as possible about what happened – of course without sharing confidential information. Keep in mind that team members can stay in touch with their former coworker, so do your best to make sure your versions of firing don't contradict each other.

Summary

Firing is a hard and stressful process for everyone involved, but it can be managed in an ethical way. Being clear when articulating the reasons and using the matter-of-fact approach is key: focusing on logistics and processes within the team and making it clear that there’s nothing personal in this decision allows to maintain healthy environment on the team and end the relationship with the terminated employee on good terms.

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