Part IV: Knowing When and How to Let and Employee Go

One of the hardest aspects of anyone’s job is letting people go. Even if we don’t like the employee’s performance, no one feels good about creating hardship for people. That said, the worst thing we can do for our company, other employees and ourselves is to keep people on board who really shouldn’t be there. The challenge is knowing when it’s time to fire someone, and then how to do it outside of the obvious unethical or illegal action in which we have no choice but to let people go. Here are a few guidelines on when it is appropriate:

  1. Consistently poor performance: If you have tried all the tasks mentioned in the previous three articles of this series (goal setting, expectations, evaluations, and coaching), and none of them have worked to the degree you need, it is time to separate.
  2. The third infraction: If you have asked an employee to change a behavior more than twice, and it is still happening, chances are the behavior isn’t going to change.
  3. Other employee or customer complaints: This isn’t just one person, but at least three or four people who have a problem. If you believe their points are valid, you must protect them and their morale by letting the person go.
  4. Bad attitude: There is nothing more toxic than a negative attitude. Every organization has a culture, and it is the manager’s job to create and preserve it. One or two people can impact the masses. If they are unwilling to change, they aren’t a fit with your organization.

Any of these reasons are good ones for letting people go. You must, of course make sure you follow the proper human resources guidelines from your organization. That means documentation and write ups according to policy and the law. Before taking any definite action speak with your HR department or consult and HR specialist if you don’t have anyone in house.

Once you have decided to let an employee go, the question is how you do it. Here are a few pointers to help:

  1. Don’t do it alone: Have someone from HR present for legal purposes, or at least a trusted colleague (not a peer of the employee, however).
  2. Timeliness: The best day and times are the end of that person’s week and shift. That way, they don’t have the opportunity to create chaos with their colleagues.
  3. Provide documentation: Walk in to the meeting with past records of discussions and write ups so the employee is 100 percent clear why this is happening and that he was fairly warned
  4. Be kind and clear: Explain specifically why you are letting him go by using specific examples, and express how you feel about the situation. Give him the chance to process what you are saying, ask if he has questions, and offer him anything you can to help ease the transition financially. (This depends on your organization’s policies)
  5. Explain to staff what has happened: It is critical to address the firing with remaining staff, so the rumors don’t start. As soon as possible, gather employees or call them to discuss what has happened, without providing details. You can invite anyone with questions to come see you privately.

The most important thing you can do for your organization is to get the right people on board. That takes time, and often requires hard decisions about people’s livelihoods. Letting people go is as important as hiring good people. It can never be done easily, but it can be done with kindness and good will.