It’s Not A Hallmark Moment: How To Correctly Fire An Employee

Many small business owners have no idea how to 'fire' someone. To ease the process, here are three tips to help you stay personable and honest when and...

Hallmark Cards, the largest manufacturer of greeting cards in the U.S., has a hidden lesson for entrepreneurs in their newest line of cards – be compassionate. If you haven’t heard, they recently released a new line of unemployment-related greeting cards due to reportedly high demand. Hallmark has provided a way for even the most socially awkward person to express his or her dismay at the layoffs of their closest friends and family.


“Sorry you lost the primary source of your income during an unfortunate down cycle of the economy, but here is a three dollar card to remind you that I still have a job and can afford to blow money on cheap paper.”


In my opinion, it’s not exactly the best way to show you care.

The entire concept behind their new line of greeting cards raises the question, “How empathetic are you towards letting employees go and people who lose their jobs?” I’ve heard horror stories of people being called into an office, told they were fired, and having nothing but the stone cold stare of an HR rep to greet their bewilderment and surprise.

As an entrepreneur, you may soon find yourself staring at one of your employees from across your desk with the unenviable task of terminating their employment. Or possibly you already have.

Many small business owners have no idea how to ‘fire’ someone. While this is a very sensitive topic, learning how to correctly terminate an employee is an essential management skill. To ease the process, here are three tips to help you stay personable and honest when and if you have to terminate an employee.


1. Don’t hide behind your desk, lamp or your HR office.

Making your HR office do your dirty work is just as bad as handing someone an impersonal greeting card you picked up with your morning coffee. It’s painfully obvious that you aren’t emotionally vested in the individual and has the potential to create animosity.

Getting fired isn’t a fun process, but it is even worse when the owner of the business doesn’t have the decency to look you in the eyes and fire you themselves. Of course, firing people isn’t a walk in the park either, but it has to be done; so you might as well do it respectfully and honorably.

Do you really want people to perceive the hallway to your HR office as some sort of Green Mile. Being a CEO isn’t all about handshakes and smiles; there are a lot of hard decisions that have to be made. But when you stand strong and confidently in your decisions, terminating employees will be easier due to the thought and manner in which you handle the decision.


2. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Most of us learned this lesson in kindergarten, but very few of us seem to remember it when it matters most. Put yourself in the shoes of your employees.  How would you want to be informed about sluggish performance, or that you may need to soon find another job?

Once you have collected physical evidence to base the termination on, start with a verbal warning. Call John or Jane into your office and be honest about what is at stake. If an employee continues to perform poorly then they have no one to blame but themselves.

Occasionally, you’ll run across ‘the negotiator’ employee — a person who will adamantly try to bargain their way out of their problems. Whatever you do, don’t lead them on. Would you want to be given false hope? Or would you prefer to know exactly what’s happening? Developing a firm position will ensure your meeting doesn’t turn into a negotiation session.

To that end, don’t spend twenty minutes yelling at an employee for bad performance. Remind the employee of the prior warning, say precisely why they are being fired, and wish them luck. The process is never easy, but it does become less jarring as time goes on.


3. Check on the team morale and give it a boost.

Terminations will affect remaining employees, so it is important that you at least check on them. You probably aren’t any happier with firing people than your staff is, therefore make an appearance and ‘humanize’ yourself. The last thing you want is an “us against them” mentality to creep into your office, especially if the person you fired was popular. So make your rounds and check in to see how people are doing.

If you hear rumors circulating, squash them quickly. You are an authority in the office, so it is up to you to keep things moving in a positive direction and to ensure the business operations improve.

Terminating a team member is never going to be easy. Honestly, it probably shouldn’t be. It is a difficult process for everyone involved. Remember, that taking shortcuts, hiding behind others, giving false hope and feigning ignorance will not make it easier. Above all else, be compassionate while staying true to your convictions.

And, please, don’t send them a “Sorry You Got Fired” card.


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