Should Firing People Always be Difficult?

I was up the whole night. I knew I had to do it, and I knew it needed to be done. That didn’t help me fall asleep in the least.

It – an insomnia-inducing feeling of dread – was the feeling I had the first time I ever had to fire someone.

My heart was beating a million beats a minute when it came time to let “Richard” go. I had inherited Richard from my predecessor, and there was no question I was doing the right thing for the company. Richard was really struggling, and he couldn’t get anything done, and, worse yet, he was in a customer-facing role, and he was in no way a good representative of the company.

Letting Richard go was the right thing to do, but I dreaded doing it.

I’ve fired many people since that first time, and I still feel dread and can’t sleep each time.

I hope I can’t sleep and I feel dread every time I fire someone, and I hope you feel dread and can’t sleep every time you fire someone too.

Why? You are drastically changing someone’s life when you let them go.

No matter what you think of the person you are letting go, no matter how bad a job you feel this person has done, you are terminating the employment of a human being with feelings, a career, friends, financial issues and a family. These are all affected when you fire someone. That’s why you should dread firing anyone.

I know. I’ve been fired. You question everything about yourself when you’ve been fired. You question your intelligence, your ability, your self-worth, and on and on it goes. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are or how much money you have: being fired rocks your world like nothing else.

Just one thing: none of that should ever stop you from firing the person.

Okay, so how should you fire someone if you’ve decided the person needs to be fired?:

  1. Handle yourself with class and grace. Remember, it could be you being fired. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot.
  2. Less is more. You don’t need to go into a long-winded explanation. Keep it short and to the point. I will speak only about firing people in California. I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you that California is considered an “at will” employment state. Unless there’s an agreement to the contrary, employees can resign at any time, and employers can fire someone at any time for any reason that isn’t illegal. (That’s things like unlawful bias.) That doesn’t mean you should give the person you’re firing any reason to feel like they could or should sue your company.
  3. You should give the person as generous severance as you can. I realize you might not be the CEO, but fight for as large a severance as you can. Your employee will remember your generosity, and that you did what you could. Conversely, they will also remember you for being cheap if you try and pinch pennies. Bottom line: this is no time to be cheap. Need more convincing? Remember, people talk, and your other employees will know exactly how you handled things. The last thing any company – or any manager within a company – needs is disgruntled former employees, particularly since the person you fire will probably continue to have relationships with some of your current employees.

What should you do after you fire someone?

I would let the team know the person has left company. Something like, “Richard has resigned. We accepted his resignation, and we wish him well.”

Why not just say you fired the person?

Again, this person is a human being with real feelings, and a family. You don’t need to drag them down. Everyone will know you fired the person, and everyone will remember you handled yourself with class and grace. Remember, your employees will judge how you handled yourself long after the person has left the company. Handle things poorly, and your employees will be thinking to themselves (and possibly saying to others) things like, “I wonder how they’ll treat me if and when I leave the company, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.”

What should I do when I don’t feel dread and I can sleep before firing someone?

Retire. You’ve lost your humanity. I know I would seriously question myself if I became “that person.” There are certain things in life that just should never feel even okay, and firing someone is one of them.

That’s all for know,


Photo: ( –