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How to ease the pain of firing an employee

When it comes to “most dreaded things,” firing an employee likely ranks at the top of your list alongside talking to opinionated relatives at holidays and filing your tax returns.

I can’t help you with your family or tax liability, but I can tell you how to make firing someone less painful.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—firing an employee sucks. But you can make it suck less.

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From the beginning

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.

Start by putting yourself in the employee’s shoes. Do they have a lot of doubt about their ability to succeed in this role? Do they dread coming to work? Do they feel like they don’t quite fit in?

It’s possible the employee already knows they’re failing, and it isn’t hard to imagine how it is negatively affecting them. You might even feel a bit sorry for them.

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Next, 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 can recognize they might be better off unemployed than miserable. So, letting someone go may be the kindest thing you can do for them in the long run.

Prepare for firing an employee

When you’ve decided someone needs to be terminated, the best thing you can do is be prepared. Here are a few things I always think about.

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1. Make sure all the necessary documentation is completed.

2. Bring in a second party as an observer.

3. Will they be walked out and by whom?

4. Decide how they’ll get their personal belongings.

5. Schedule either first thing in the morning or toward the end of the day.

6. Find a quiet, out-of-the-way place to have the meeting.

7. Call in security if you feel you need it.

8. Assemble a packet with information on insurance, 401(k), benefits, and severance (if applicable).

9. 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.

Don’t beat around the bush, but don’t just rip off the Band-Aid. 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 un- fortunately we are terminating your employment as of today. The reason is XYZ.” Be pleasant but to the point, and let them know exactly why. I wouldn’t go into much more detail un- less they ask questions.

Typically, they might feel this is coming and, usually, you’re not firing someone without a preceding 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.

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 firing an employee 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 that the person is no longer allowed on site and to contact security or police if they show up.

Unfortunately, firing an employee is a part of business. 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 firing an employee, just prepare so it can be less painful.

Rikka Brandon is the founder and Chief Executive Recruiter of Building Gurus, a boutique executive search and consulting firm that works exclusively with building product manufacturers and distributors to find, hire, and retain top building products talent.

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