The Right Way to Fire an Employee

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff June 10, 2005

In the June 2005 issue of the SullivanKreiss Executive Search Newsletter, executive search pro John Kreiss offers advice on the right way to fire an employee.

“’You’re fired,’ or the numerous less harsh euphemisms, are the hardest words for any manager, with the possible exception of Donald Trump,” writes Kreiss. “Indeed, firing an employee is probably the most stressful and difficult task for managers. While it’s never easy, handling the situation properly can minimize the negative repercussions for all involved and mitigate the impact on the organization’s morale.”

Kreiss also points out that every firm should have policies in place to mitigate the possibility of wrongful termination lawsuits.

Some of the important points to consider, according to Kreiss, are the following:

New employees. Many terminations occur during the first three months of employment. “Many firms refer to this period as probationary, says Kreiss. “But I don’t like that term. It sets a negative tone.” He prefers to refer the first three months as a training phase. If an employee shows promise but is lacking some necessary skills, it might be possible to remedy the situation with the proper training.

Document performance conversations. Kreiss points out that the termination of an employee with long tenure at the firm often stretches out over months. It’s essential that the firm have a paper trail to back up the dismissal of such an employee for poor performance.

Fire with dignity. It’s essential to give the employee the news in person and explain carefully why he or she is being dismissed. “Be straight and truthful,” writes Kreiss. “But don’t beat up on the person. There’s no reason to delve deeply into the details of his or her shortcomings; that should have been done earlier during discussions about performance.” Also, one only needs to discuss the situation with remaining employees that need to know.

Evaluate what went wrong. Sometimes, writes Kreiss, terminations reveal flaws in your hiring or management practices. “Was the person who was let go under-qualified for the position? Did he or she have some previously undetected gaps in expertise or experience that led to his or her downfall? What can the firm do better in the hiring process to ensure that the next person hired for the position will succeed? Can the firm offer better training and support, if necessary?”