9 Lessons I Learned From Firing Someone
As a boss, you will come across situations that require you to fire an employee.
This could be as a result of the employee failing to meet their requirements at work, violating the company’s policies, or even due to reasons that are beyond the control of the employee, such as when the company decides to cut costs by letting some employees go.
Regardless of the reason behind having to fire someone, or how justified the decision might be, firing someone is not a pleasant experience. Unless you are extremely inhuman, you are definitely going to feel bad about telling someone that you have decided to take away their job.
You are basically pulling out the rug from under their feet. Maybe the person has a family to take care of, or a mortgage to pay, and you are taking the ability to do all that from him.
Within the course of my career, I have had to fire employees a few times, and none of it was easy for me. However, I always try to learn something from every experience I go through, including firing employees.
Below are the 9 lessons I learned from firing someone.
IT IS OKAY TO FEEL NERVOUS
It doesn’t matter how many times you have done it before, but you will always feel nervous before firing an employee. You are essentially dealing a huge blow to their life and their family.
You are taking away their source of income and crushing their ego. In such a situation, it is normal that you will feel horrible. You might be unable to sleep the night before or unable to eat breakfast that morning.
You will have a tight knot in your stomach. You should learn that all this is normal. Actually, if you find yourself not having the nerves when you are about to fire someone, it might be time for you to step down from the position.
SOMETIMES FIRING IMPLIES A COMMUNICATION FAILURE
Unless they commit a gross violation that requires their employment to be terminated immediately, employees should have an idea that their firing is imminent.
If an employee gets shocked once you deliver the news that they have been fired, this could be an indicator that you have a communication problem with your employees.
As a boss or manager, it is your role to communicate with your employees and provide them with feedback to know how they are performing at work. If an employee does not know that they are underperforming, they will keep doing the same thing they are doing believing that they are doing what is required of them.
Therefore, firing such an employee is technically your fault, because you are the one who is failing as a manager.
To avoid such situations, create a habit of communicating with your staff and letting them know when they fall short of your expectations. Don’t wait for performance reviews to give feedback to your employees.
Feedback – both positive and negative – should be given right away. It doesn’t have to be scheduled. Anytime you notice an employee slacking off or not meeting the requirements of the company, let them know immediately.
Giving feedback immediately works well because the details and the context will be fresh in your mind and the employee’s mind, and they are more likely to take action to improve their performance.
Feedback is so important that 72% of small business owners believe that employee appraisal is a valuable process.
When giving feedback, avoid abstractions and vagueness. Be very specific. Telling an employee that they are underperforming is vague. Telling them that they have fallen short of their monthly sales target by 10% is specific.
The idea here is to make sure that you are communicating well with your employees and giving them the best chance of succeeding at your job. If this is done properly, you are less likely to find yourself in situations that require you to let an employee go.
LETTING THE EMPLOYEE GO IS NOT ALWAYS THE BEST DECISION
Most times, when it appears that an employee is underperforming, the default action is to show this employee the door. However, firing the employee is not your only option. If the employee is highly skilled but is underperforming, the problem could be that the employee is not in the best position for them.
Instead of letting him go and going through the process of recruiting and onboarding a new employee, what if you could find another position where the employee can make better use of his skills?
Sometimes, an employee’s underperformance comes from the frustration of not being able to apply their unique skills, not because they are not good employees.
As a wise manager, reassigning such an employee is a better option than firing them since the company is already invested in the employee.
In addition, such an employee already knows your company, they are loyal to the company and they do not need any time to get used to the company culture. Reassigning such an employee instead of firing them also helps improve overall morale and commitment to the company, leads to improved job performance and enhances a positive culture for the company.
However, if you decide that it is absolutely necessary for the employee to be fired, keep these considerations in mind.
FIRING AN EMPLOYEE WILL NOT SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS
An employee has been causing the company lots of trouble. He is not pulling his weight, projects are getting delayed and other employees are losing morale. You have tried talking to the employee and given him warnings but nothing you do seems to get him to improve. In such a situation, it is easy to assume that firing the errant employee will solve all your problems.
However, firing the employee will not solve all these problems, at least not immediately. Instead, it might even create new problems. After firing the employee, you will need to sort out how his responsibilities will be covered by the remaining employees. As you might have guessed, the other employees won’t be very pleased with the extra work.
In addition, you will have to deal with finding a replacement for the employee you just fired.
According to SHRM, the cost of replacing an employee can be as high as 50% – 60% of the employee’s annual salary. For highly skilled employees who earn high salaries, this cost can go as high as 200% of the employee’s annual salary.
You will have to think about the resources that will be spent in advertising for the vacant position, working with recruiters to find suitable candidates, interviewing applicants, as well as onboarding and the initial training the new employee will have to go through before they can take on the duties of the previous employee.
The aim here is not to urge you to keep a non-performing employee because of the inconvenience of finding a replacement for him. If you feel that an employee has to go, sometimes that is the best decision.
However, before you let the employee go, think of all the things you will need to take of before you find someone to take over his duties.
In addition, don’t expect that once the employee is gone that all the problems in the company will be over – productivity will go up, the morale of the other employees will improve, customer relationships will improve and so on.
The workplace is a dynamic environment, and it is very unlikely that all the problems within the company are being caused by one employee.
Therefore, don’t expect firing a non-performing employee to be a silver bullet that will solve all your problems.
ALWAYS HAVE A WITNESS WITH YOU WHEN FIRING AN EMPLOYEE
The first time I had to fire someone, things did not go as I expected. The employee in question was someone I was friends with, and as you might guess, it wasn’t going to be easy for me. When she walked into my office, I started telling her that the decision to fire her had been made but I froze mid-sentence. I couldn’t go through with it.
Luckily, I had the HR manager with me in the room. The HR manager realized that I was lost for words and went ahead and told the employee that the company had decided to terminate her employment. From that day, I have always made a point of having someone in my office when letting someone know that we are letting them go.
Having a witness with you when firing an employee serves two purposes. In case you run out of words or if you are unsure what to say while communicating the decision like I did, the other person can pick up where you left and help you with the termination.
In addition, you will be glad you had a witness in case the employee decides to take legal action against you. In today’s world where anyone can sue you anytime for any reason, someone who was with you in the room can back you up in court and confirm that you followed the right procedures when firing the employee and that you treated the employee fairly.
The best person to have as a witness when firing someone is someone from HR. HR staff are usually well versed with firing employees and can help you communicate the decision directly and with finality, without letting it turn into an argument with the employee.
Since HR staff are well versed with matters to do with fairness and professionalism when firing an employee, they will also make a more credible witness in case the matter goes to court.
However, if you cannot get hold of an HR representative, you can find another person to act as a witness, such as someone senior to you in the organization, another manager on the same level as you, the company lawyer or a trusted employee.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE REST OF THE TEAM
When you fire an employee, you might be tempted to leave things at that and hope that everything will now start running smoothly. What most bosses forget is that the employee was part of a team, and that team will also be affected by the termination of their colleague’s employment.
They might feel like they are next in line, and their morale might take a dip. To ensure everything continues running smoothly, you need to notify other colleagues about this new development.
Maintaining silence about the firing of an employee might have several negative impacts for the company. If you do not address the issue, gossip will spring up within the office. The other employees might lose trust in the management of the company. They might also be worried that the firing of their colleague will mean a bigger workload for them.
To avoid all this, take the time to rebuild the confidence of the remaining team. Simply tell them that the employee is no longer working with the company and reassure them that their jobs are not at risk.
Reassure them that you appreciate the work they do for the company. Let them know that even though the next few weeks might be difficult, the company will take action swiftly to find a replacement for the employee who has been fired.
Most importantly, avoid the urge to badmouth the employee who has just been fired. Doing so will only make the other employees lose respect for you. Below is a real life example of how you might break the news.
“Yesterday was Paul’s last day with us, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors. The company has already started the searching for someone who will take his place. In the meantime, Mike and Peggy will take over his duties. I appreciate the work all of you do here, and I want to assure you that none of your jobs is on the line. If anyone has any questions, please come talk with me in my office.”
That should be enough to prevent any speculation and reassure the other members of the team.
DON’T FORGET TO RESTRICT THE EMPLOYEE’S ACCESS TO THE ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS
Regardless of the reason behind employment termination, whether the employee knew the termination was coming or not, no one will receive news of their sacking happily. Instead, they will feel betrayed. They will feel angry. They will feel bitter.
In such emotional states, it is not uncommon for people to act irrationally.
They will want revenge or anything that makes them feel like they are getting even. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the company’s electronic systems. An enraged employee who has just been fired might post insulting messages to other employees, mess with computer records or even steal confidential company data.
To avoid this, you should coordinate with the IT department to ensure that the employee’s access to the company’s electronic systems is restricted. These include computer systems, company email accounts, customer contact forums, the company intranet, the company wiki, and so on.
This should be done either slightly before you let the employee know about the decision to let them go, or during the termination meeting. Apart from disabling access to systems, you should also collect any company property such as laptops and access cards.
IT IS HARDER FOR THEM THAN IT IS FOR YOU
Firing employees has always been a hard thing for me. There is this one time I had to fire an employee who did not seem to be doing anything right.
He was perpetually late and he rarely met his targets. However, he was a nice guy, and everyone at the office liked him. However, after trying to get him to improve, it became clear that my only option was to let him go. When he appeared in my office for the termination meeting, I started by telling him how bad I felt about the decision to fire him.
After letting him know that his employment was being terminated, I once again told him how sorry I was for him.
He broke down, started pleading with me to reconsider the decision and making promises about how he would improve. This made the whole situation more emotional, and I almost changed my mind about letting him go.
While firing someone feels hard for you, it is always harder for the person being fired. They just lost their source of income, so what you are feeling is nothing compared to what they are feeling. Trying to comfort them or apologize makes it even harder for them. After all, if you feel so bad about firing them, why are you doing it then?
Trying to comfort them sends a message that the decision is up for debate, and the employee will almost always try to convince you why you should give them another chance. This is something you do not want since you have already decided that letting them go is the best decision.
Therefore, you need to act as a strong, decisive boss. Remain calm and collected, and avoid showing your emotions. Apologizing is also an indicator that your decision might be wrong, which opens up the possibility of being sued.
Pass the message with a degree of finality that lets them know that the decision is not up for debate. If the employee becomes emotional, give them time to let the news sink in, but do not try to give any excessive explanations.
If you think that you will feel emotional while passing the news, it is a good idea to talk with your mentor beforehand and let him or her know how you feel. Having let off your emotions beforehand will make it easier for you to remain calm and collected while passing the news to the employee being fired.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL GUILTY
When an employee has been slacking on their job and pulling the whole team behind, the number one thing on your mind is usually to let the employee go. After making the decision and finally letting them go, it won’t take long before you start asking yourself if you did the right thing. Is there something else you could have done instead of firing him? Was he really a bad employee? Did you properly communicate to him what was expected of him by the company? Could you have somehow helped him improve his performance? Will his children get out of school because he now has no source of income?
Asking yourself these questions after you fire someone from their job is normal. Don’t judge yourself too harshly because of this. You are only human, and it is normal to feel guilty when you just delivered such crushing news to someone, even worse when you are the one who made the decision.
However, don’t dwell too much on these thoughts since they can affect your ability to perform your work in future, especially if you find yourself in a position where you have to fire another employee again.
The best way to prevent this feeling of guilt is to ensure that you have anything within your ability to help the employee improve their performance, before resorting to letting them go. When you know that you tried to help to no avail, you are less likely to feel like you made the wrong decision.
No matter how many times you do it, firing an employee is never going to be a pleasant experience. You are cutting ties with someone who has been a part of your business and creating a hardship for them, and this will always be painful for both of you. Actually, firing someone should be only be used as a last resort.
Before you let an employee go, you should do everything within your ability to try and get the employee to correct their behavior or improve their performance. However, sometimes letting the employee go is the best decision for the company, and as a boss it is inevitable that you will find yourself having to make the call to fire someone.
While the lessons shared in this article will not make it any pleasant, they will firing someone a little easier for you.