How To Fire an Employee

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Firing an employee is truly an art form. When performed correctly, a firing involves tact, style, and superb communication skills. Firing requires a delicate balance of sympathy and empathy, but also a firm resolve. Incorrect firing technique will leave the employee bitter and angry, and can lead to various forms of retalliation by the terminated party. On the other hand, when you are fired by the best, it is almost as if your employer has done you a favor.

Since I work in a field with a high rate of employee turnover, I have been able to refine my firing technique over years of trial and error. As a result, I have developed a three-step system for dealing with the termination of an employee. By using this system, you will be able to put the needs of your organization first, while at the same time maintaining goodwill with the departing employee. It is a true win-win situation.

1. Assessment and re-assignment. First, you must decide if it is in your best interest to fire an employee. You may have an employee who is horrible with one job duty, but who shines at other job duties. In this situation, it may be a good idea to re-assign the employee to a different position. Let’s use a hair salon as an example. One of your stylists, whom we will call Sue, is absolutely horrible at cutting hair. However, Sue is a whiz with haircolor. Rather than firing Sue because she cannot cut hair, it might be a better idea to bestow upon Sue the position of colorist, which will allow her to do what she loves and what she is good at doing. Re-assignment can be done in most professions, and it can be a great way to save money. If you do not believe me, take a moment to tally up the costs associated with hiring and training a new employee!

2. Resignation. Before firing any employee, offer the employee a chance to resign. If an employee willfully quits his or her job, the business is protected from various forms of legal retalliation, which can range from unemployment compensation and discrimination lawsuits to negative publicity. If you are a restaurant owner, for example, and you fire one of your cooks, your former cook just may go out and tell everyone he or she knows to eat somewhere else while giving your establishment a bad reputation. In order to protect your reputation, it is always best to have an employee quit instead of firing.

3. Firing. Sooner or later it will be necessary to fire an employee due to gross incompetence on the job. This is your opportunity to put your people skills to the test. This is also an opportunity to exercise empathy. Step outside of your management role and look at the situation not as a businessperson, but as a human being. Most likely, the truth is that your employee is not a bad person, an incompetent person, or an unreliable person. This particular person is just not suited for that particular job. When firing an employee, urge them to pursue a career that is better-suited to their talents. Say something like “Joe, I’ve been watching your job performance very closely, and it is clear that you are an extremely talented individual. Unfortunately, your talents would serve you so much better at a different type of job. Don’t think of this as being fired; think of this as a learning opportunity. Go out into the world and put that talent to work for you, because somewhere out there is the right job for your abilities, and it pains me to say that this job is not where you belong.” Be encouraging, not discouraging, and always offer to give the employee a good reference or a letter or recommendation. Give the employee the impression that you are trying to help by guiding him or her towards a job that is more suitable. Don’t be a jerk, be a mentor.


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