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February 19, 2014

How to make firing less painful

By shutterstock_29269837

The life of middle and upper management isn’t always fist-bumps and booyahs. There are moments when the weight of the company rests squarely on the shoulders of those that run the company. One such moment is when it comes time to send an employee packing. Sure there are certain instances when that moment is a relief (bad seeds always somehow manage to get employed). But when a good employee must be released, that moment can crush the soul of the one handing out the dreaded “pink slip.”

When the firing of an employee is an inevitability, how do you manage to do so without feeling as if you’ve lost a part of your spirit you’ll never regain? Sometimes it’s seemingly impossible, sometimes not. Either way, let’s examine a few methods that will help you to sleep at night, even when you know the hammer must fall.

Give fair warning

By “fair warning” I do not mean to warn an employee they are going to be fired. If you have an employee that is having issues performing to the standards set forth by the company, it’s your responsibility to inform that employee and set them on a path to right that sinking ship. If that employee gets up to speed, you’ve done your job. If that employee continues to fail, it’s still your job to give the employee a chance (how many chances that employee gets will be outlined in the employee handbook – or should be). At some point, however, it should start to become clear the employee simply isn’t going to work out. Once this event occurs, the firing of that employee will not be a shock to anyone.

Back the action up

Sometimes you just need to crunch some numbers so you can see them spread out before you. There are instances when those figures will clearly illustrate you are doing the right thing. This may be as simple as your company is losing money and the only way to keep the lights on is to release some of the employees. This happens – a lot – and employees actually get it. We all know where the economy is and that no job is secure now. Should anyone walk into a job under the assumption they are set for life, that person simply hasn’t been paying attention to the world around them.

So, the day (or the hour) before it’s time to lower the ax of doom, make sure to you take a long, hard look at those numbers. Whether or not you share the results that led to the conclusion with the employee is up to you. What’s important is that you have every justification you need for the action.

Be sensitive

I’ve heard of managers and owners handling the firing of an employee with such malice and overwrought authority, it makes me wonder how they can live with themselves. If you’re the one doing the firing, remember this: You’ve most likely been on the other end of the situation. You must remember how being fired can profoundly alter the lives of not only the employee to be released, but their family as well. The loss of income can be tragic. With this in mind, make sure you enter into the situation with the intention to be as kind and considerate as possible. This same consideration should apply for any and all firings. Why would you want to approach the firing of a problem employee with kindness? You do not want to wind up with a lawsuit or an enraged ex-employee raining down havoc after the fact.

Although the kinder touch might not make it easier on you at first, it will in the end. If this treatment can help ease the release for the employee, they will, in turn, not place the burden of blame on your shoulders.

Soften the blow

When you wind up having to release good employees, there are ways you can soften the blow. When you do this, your conscience won’t take such a huge hit.

One of the standard means of making it easier is to offer up a severance package. This could be in the form of a few weeks pay. The average severance package in the United States looks like this:

  • Salaried severance benefit is two weeks pay for each year of service (maximum of 26 weeks)
  • Executive severance benefit typically ranges from six to 12 months

If your company is able to offer this, do. It will go a long way to show compassion to those being released, which in turn will make it easier for you to do the deed. If you cannot offer severance, you should at least come in with information on what the employee could do next. This might include information about unemployment insurance, information about COBRA insurance, letters of recommendation and performance reports.

Don’t enter alone

You should always handle these transactions with a witness. There are many reasons for this that fall under the umbrella of company protection (in case the employee threatens retaliation or makes false accusations). There are also reasons that aid in the transition for the employee. The witness you bring in should be a familiar face to offer a modicum of comfort to the employee. Do not be so bold as to bring in a friend of the employee, as that could be a point of embarrassment, jealousy or contention. Instead, think of someone that would easily balance you out. If you tend to play the tough cop, bring in someone with a gentle approach. If you lean toward being a push over, bring the tough cop along to even the scales. You want to offer the employee as neutral an environment as possible. Do not weigh the scales in favor of bullying or strong arming, otherwise the employee to be released could start posturing and become defensive or unruly.

It’s inevitable. If you are a manager or owner, you are going to have to fire someone. When you do, you don’t want to wind up carrying the guilt around for days and weeks to come. With just a little forethought, you can help both your employee and yourself when the act of firing comes around.

About the Author

is an award winning writer of technical content and fiction. He has been covering Linux and open source since the late '90s and just about every conceivable topic since. His fiction breaks ground in the post apocalyptic genre as well as horror, thriller, and science fiction. For more information on Jack, check out his site, Get Jack'd at