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7 Tips for Your First Time Firing an Employee

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It’s not easy to manage people. It takes strategic thinking, communication, confidence and so much more to lead others successfully. One of the biggest challenges leaders face is the termination of their employees, especially first-time leaders. Think about it. Your job is to deliver some of the worst news this person may ever hear in their lives. That’s heavy.

What makes it worse is that your employees have families, bills and debts to pay off. They need to make a living to survive. So naturally no one wants to be held responsible for breaking this kind of news, but it happens — every day. Someone’s got to do it.

Employees are fired for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes layoffs happen because the company is restructuring or making cuts. Other times employees break company policy or engage in inappropriate behavior. Terminations may be fair or unfair. Regardless, they’re part of the job and must be done when necessary.

Tips for Your First Time Firing an Employee

The best way to handle your first time letting someone go is to prepare yourself ahead of time. You’ll know how to respond to different reactions and outcomes, and you’ll have time to train yourself to patiently take whatever comes your way. Everyone handles terminations differently. Some employees react with anger. Others react with sadness — sometimes even violence. Be prepared for anything.

Read on for seven tips for your first time firing an employee.

1. Choose the Right Location and Time

Be aware of the location and time you choose. You don’t want to hold it in an all-glass office when a lot of other people are around. Choose a slower time and a place away from other employees. You not only want to respect the impacted employee and give them privacy, but you also want to avoid possibly alerting others — otherwise, you could potentially create panic or provoke unnecessary gossip.

Also, consider the impacted employee’s reaction. They may cry or become visibly upset, which will be enough for you to manage without an audience.

2. Arrange for a Witness

It’s always a good idea to have a witness join these meetings to avoid false accusations and other complaints that could follow from an agitated employee. This will also make it easier for you to answer the employee’s questions. If you arrange for your supervisor, HR business partner or a member of legal to sit in, you protect yourself as well as the company.

It’s not unusual for a terminated employee to become defensive or hostile. If you do face a situation with a high-risk employee, know the steps you should take to err on the side of caution.

3. Keep It Short and Simple

A termination meeting should never last longer than a few minutes. The whole point is to communicate clearly and definitively with the individual — nothing more. If you let the meeting go on for too long, you will likely start to ramble and create discomfort for the employee, who may then become defensive — which is never a good path to take. You want to relay three things: what’s happening, why they’re losing their job and what they can and can’t expect.

Figure out what you plan to say beforehand and rehearse it however many times it takes for you to feel comfortable with the message. You might also want to try role-playing with a trusted individual to ensure clear and concise communication.

4. Respect the Terminated Employee

Whether your employee has broken policy, harassed a co-worker or done something else unethical, you want to remain respectful, unless that employee becomes disruptive to the company or the environment. Otherwise, in most cases, employees will handle termination professionally to protect their reputation.

Be careful not to tip off the employee of their termination before your meeting because you may cause the employee to become angry and retaliate. Don’t cut off their badge access or system access before they’re properly notified. As you’ve heard before, treat others as you’d want to be treated. Put yourself in their place, then keep that in mind during the termination process.

5. Communicate With Others

You will inevitably get questions from curious employees and co-workers after someone’s termination. Beat them to it and have your marketing team create a communication you can send out to the entire department or company, depending on the specific situation at hand.  

If you don’t do this, employees will come up with their own explanations. This can create panic along with rumors that aren’t true. Transparency is key when it comes to this, so make sure you communicate the right message to everyone by carefully crafting every sentence. Don’t say too little, and don’t say too much. Think about what it is they need to know.

6. Move On

It’s as simple as it sounds. Move on. Don’t dwell on the situation. Don’t waste your time and energy on guilt. You have a job to do. It’s inevitable you won’t feel great after your first termination — in fact, it’s very likely — but it’s important to remember that it had to happen.

Also, refrain from talking negatively about the employee or their work once they are terminated. You want to continue to respect the situation and keep yourself in a good light with the rest of your team. Continue to prepare yourself for follow-up questions from other employees during this time. Even if you send out a communication, there will be follow-up questions and concerns about job security. Plan ahead.

7. Provide Support

If you fire an employee due to a company reduction or role elimination, offer that employee your support in their search for a new job, especially if they’re a talented individual with a promising future. You can do this by providing them with a reference, job leads and by helping them to move forward without dwelling on the termination.

If you don’t believe in the employee, however, don’t give a false reference or place them in another role in the company, particularly if you know they aren’t the right fit.

Your first-time termination will not be an easy one, but it will get better over time as you learn how to prepare, communicate and move on from everything else that comes in between. Remember that you’re not the bad guy just because you have to let someone go. The sooner you realize that, the better. Focus on your responsibility as a leader — to successfully guide and manage your team.  

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