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The Alternative Board Blog

Tips on How to Gracefully Let an Employee Go

Aug. 29, 2019 | Posted by The Alternative Board
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Employers describe the experience of firing someone as “horrible” or “miserable” or just “an agony to go through.” It’s true, there’s nothing pleasant about terminating an employee. But it doesn’t have to be a terrible ordeal for all involved. Termination can take place in a dignified, respectful manner that makes the experience more tolerable for everyone involved.

Here are tips on how to gracefully let an employee go:

No surprises

A termination should never come out of the blue. Instead, it should be the end-result of numerous warnings and/or performance evaluations that indicate certain workplace actions are deemed inadequate and must be changed. Whatever reasons lie behind the termination should have been well-documented for some time preceding this decision.

Do it with dignity

Humiliating a soon-to-be ex-employee is never the proper strategy. This difficult conversation should take place behind closed doors, not in a public venue. Don’t settle for taking action via email or voicemail. A face-to-face conversation is always best.

Also, have a third-party witness present “in case the employee comes back at you with a lawsuit,” notes Forbes. “A witness can confirm you acted legally and ethically while firing the employee.”

Get to the point

Yes, it’s an uncomfortable discussion to have, but there’s no reason to drag it out. “Rehashing your dissatisfaction when you fire the employee” is not beneficial, notes The Balance. Of course, the employee will want to know a specific reason (though it should be clear based on prior documentation), so have a response ready “that is honest and correctly summarizes the situation without detail or placing blame.” Also, be prepared to answer questions regarding a final paycheck, unemployment benefits, and so on.

Want additional insight? Read 7 Steps for an Effective Hiring Process now to learn more


End on a positive note

The difficult conversation will go better for all involved if you can end it on a hopeful note. Either focus on the help offered by unemployment insurance (if appropriate) or find elements of the employee’s work history that you can praise or for which you can express gratitude. Offer suggestions for a renewed job search and close the conversation on an encouraging note.

Ensure a timely and proper departure

A few other actions are necessary as part of the termination process:

  • During the conversation, ask the employee to relinquish his or her company keys or door passes, as well as any company-owned electronic devices.
  • Arrange for the employee to collect his or her personal belongings either after work or on the following weekend. It’s a more considerate approach than subjecting them to clean out their desk while others are watching.
  • At the same time that termination is announced, immediately shut down that employee’s access to your information technology systems. Working with your IT staff, make sure he or she cannot gain entry to any communications or information storage materials (this can be planned in advance with IT). Offer to help forward any personal communication the terminated employee wishes to share with his or her co-workers.

Being pro-active in these areas helps protect your business.

Inform the rest of the team

To squelch rumors and any feelings of discontent, communicate news of the employee’s departure as soon as possible. Otherwise, there’s a risk the ex-employee (and/or his friends in the workplace) will take to social media and frame the narrative from their point of view. Of course, people will vent on social media and elsewhere anyway, but from an internal perspective, you should alert the team to this change of employment, while adding that further details are unnecessary, to protect the former employee’s dignity.

Some hard feelings are incurred during any termination, but handling the process with dignity and respect eases the situation and demonstrates your concern for the entire team.

Learn more about handling difficult situations by registering for a free TAB Boss Webinar, “How to Transform Any Tough Conversation from Emotional and Unproductive to Logical and Effective.”


Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by The Alternative Board

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