How To Make Firing Someone Less Difficult

There are those things everyone dreads – taking a test you haven't studied enough for, talking to overly opinionated (or just strange) relatives at holidays, taxes and of course at the top of the list – firing someone.

I can't help you with your family, tax liability or most things hiding in your anxiety closet, but I can tell you how to make firing someone less painful. With a history in HR and as a long time building products recruiter & entrepreneur, I've fired my share of people over the years. I'm not going to lie or sugar coat it – firing people sucks. But you can make it suck less.

A good first step is to start thinking differently about firing. When you come at it in a different manner your attitude and approach will follow suit.

From The Beginning

Start by putting yourself in the employee's shoes. Think about how they feel at work.

Do they have a lot of doubt about their abilities? Are they dreading coming to work? Do they feel like they don't quite fit in? Do they realize they don't have the capability to succeed in this role?

Likely, they know they are failing and it isn't hard to imagine how it is negatively affecting them. Think about how poorly they sleep and the anxiety they struggle with.

You probably are picturing someone that is very unhappy, apprehensive and just plain miserable. You might even feel a bit sorry for them – which may be a total spin from when you were mad or disappointed. No one deserves to feel like this.

We all need work that is fulfilling and we all deserve a chance to succeed. At the same time, every company and manager deserves engaged employees who are happy to be there and are successful.

Think About What You Are Doing

So, you now have changed your script about firing this employee. Next, I want you to remember that firing isn't something negative you are doing to someone but hopefully, something freeing and positive you are doing for someone.

Very few people are able to recognize they might be better off unemployed than miserable. Some people will never willingly leave a job even if they are physically sick from stress or unhappiness. So, letting someone go may be the kindest thing you can do for them in the long run.

Once you get your mindset differently, you can think about how you want the conversation to proceed.


When you've decided someone needs to be terminated, the best thing you can do is to be prepared. Here are a few things I always think about in preparation. You might want to develop a checklist for termination and resignation processes.

  • Make sure all the necessary documentation is completed.
  • Bring in a second party as an observer.
  • Will they be walked out and by who?
  • Decide how they'll get their personal belongings.
  • Schedule for right away in the morning or towards the end of the day.
  • Figure out a quiet, out of the way place to have the meeting.
  • Call in security if you feel you need it.
  • Assemble a packet for insurance, 401K, and benefits information.
  • Ensure you gather all keys, badges and security information.

Being as prepared as possible is one of the best ways to make these conversations go more smoothly.

The Conversation And Beyond

Your ultimate goal is to maintain your composure and to try to make this as easy as possible. The employee will likely have some inkling what is going on and certainly, when you start the conversation they will catch on quickly.

Don't beat around the bush, but don't just rip off the band-aid either. Don't yell, don't escalate along with their feelings and emotions and just stick to the facts.

It can be as simple as, “We appreciate your efforts, but unfortunately we are terminating your employment as of today. The reason is XYZ.” So, be pleasant but to the point and let them know exactly why. I wouldn't go into much more detail unless they ask questions.

Typically, they might feel this is coming and usually, you don't fire someone without a series of conversations and corrective actions. So, you should be able to keep this conversation pretty brief.

Obviously, they are going to show emotion. They might get angry, they might cry or they might just be stunned. Give them a few minutes to compose themselves and don't get upset no matter what they do. Someone getting fired is likely having one of their worst moments so don't hold their reaction against them.

Go through the necessary items you have to cover, have them sign anything you need and then proceed with the rest according to your plan.

If It Goes Badly

If someone is abusive or threatening, don't match their tone of voice or behavior. Call security or the police and have the person escorted out. If someone reacts very badly, you may need to consider extra security measures for your employees and property. At the very least, inform other employees the person no longer is allowed on-site and to contact security or police if they show up.

Unfortunately, firing employees is a part of the business and can't be avoided. It might never be easy, but I have never had the smallest twinge of regret or felt I have made a mistake. I have even had a few people thank me years later because it got them out of a miserable situation and let them move on to better things.

Don't fear to fire someone, just prepare so it can be less painful!



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