How to Fire an Employee You Like (And Not Feel Terrible Afterward)

Oct 13, 2014 - Joe Matar
Unless you catch an employee spreading trade secrets like small-town gossip over a three-hour lunch break, you most likely won’t take any pleasure in firing them. Firing someone is hard, even if you feel neutral toward the employee as a person. However, it’s especially difficult when it happens to be someone you respect and like. Maybe the reason is absenteeism. Maybe the employee was hired in a time crunch for a job they weren’t qualified to do. Perhaps the employee has been around a long time, and the job responsibilities have grown, but they haven’t. No matter the case, telling someone that their career at your company is ending is a conversation you will most likely lose sleep over. But it doesn’t have to make you cringe with guilt for months to come. If you have given warnings, offered to guide the individual in professional shortcomings, and given them chances to improve behavior or performance, you are making the right decision. You can fire your employee the right way: by sticking to your guns while still expressing respect. Here are three ways to make it easier to fire someone you like.

Prepare for the meeting

Don’t come in frazzled from a busy work day and make the employee feel you’re not giving the meeting due consideration. Even if you stayed up all night phrasing everything just right, take a few moments before the meeting to gather your thoughts again. To simplify the process, speak to HR to get all the legal information both you and the employee will need. Also, choose a comfortable, private place and the best time possible. Many people advise firing on a Friday as this allows the employee the weekend to recover before launching back into the job search. That also may be more convenient for the company as far as payroll goes. However, the employee’s business contacts will most likely be unavailable over the weekend, which could cause discouragement before the job hunt even begins. Consider firing mid-week when a few days remain to pursue leads.

Be empathetic, but firm

If you like the employee, then this person obviously has several good qualities and doesn’t deserve a cold dismissal. They also don’t deserve to undergo the emotional torment of thinking there’s room for you to change your decision if there’s simply not. Stick to your planned dialogue and acknowledge the employee’s virtues -- perhaps they are helpful and hard-working -- but don’t minimize the problems that led you this point. This is not an easy conversation to have, and you might feel tempted to withhold details regarding why you are firing this person. But “it’s simply not working out” doesn’t help the employee know what to do next. It’s ultimately more constructive to be honest about why you are firing them. The employee will feel more respected if you do so and they won’t have to wonder what went wrong. They will be more able to pursue a position that matches their qualifications, or one that has flexibility regarding the responsibilities and priorities of their personal life. Once you have presented solid reasons for your decision, your employee will have the opportunity to share thoughts and show emotion. You will be tempted to defend your decision, but there’s no point in giving details that could only hurt feelings. Respond to sadness and anger with compassion, and move on to the topic of how you will make their transition easier. (Click here to tweet this quote.)

Be clear about what’s next

Be sure to explain to your employee what kind of reference you will give to prospective employers. Also, encourage them to pursue a job that makes use of the strong skills you’ve noticed. It’s important to act as a positive reference and help them succeed in another setting. Additionally, let the employee know the date and method of receiving a final paycheck, what will happen to vacation days and how long their benefits will continue. While it may feel harsh to do so, follow the necessary legal procedures, such as retrieving company property and making sure the employee leaves the premises. Finally, provide contact information for yourself or another person in the company in case the employee has questions. It may be difficult, but end on a positive note. It will benefit both you and the employee’s reputation to maintain a strong professional relationship down the road -- even if this situation didn’t quite work out. Katherine Halek is a Marketing Associate at, a leader in online printing. Signazon works with hundreds of small businesses owners each year to promote their businesses with custom signs, flyers, and more. Connect with her on Google+.