Expert Tips For Firing Employees

The current President of the United States has popularized the battle cry “You’re Fired!” But not everyone is as gleeful about letting go of an employee. In fact, for most people – even seasoned CEOs – firing employees ranks as their number one stumbling block.

There’s a reason for that. The best leaders take ownership of issues in their company. So, when the employee:

1. Underperforms;
2. Doesn’t fit the culture;
3. Is in a position that became redundant.

What do good leaders do? They tend to take the blame onto themselves.

I didn’t train her well enough.”
I should have taken him under my wing; then, he would have understood how we work.”
I could have prepared her in advance, seen that the position would become redundant.”

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. It’s okay to take responsibility and stand by your team. However, keep in mind that the stars don’t align for everyone and you are not the custodian of the universe. Also, even if you *could* have done something? Well, you didn’t. Whatever the reason, there’s someone on your team that fits one or more of the following:

  • Doesn’t get on well with other people.

  • Doesn’t perform to the expected standard.

  • Has no function and no skills applicable to another position.

I’m sure that I’m forgetting several other reasons for firing people. In any case: there’s a person that, at best, is dead weight. And most likely, is harming the team’s morale, productivity, or both. So guess whose job is it to solve the problem once and for all? That’s right. It falls on you. The leader. So get out there and do it in a way that makes the best out of a regretful situation – for everyone involved. Here are a few tips on how to do so.

“It’s Not Me. It’s You”

First, let’s get your conscience in order. Yes, firing employees is never something that you want to do with a light heart. No, you can’t keep an underperforming employee. It’s not good for you. Deep down, you’ll know that your fear of having the uncomfortable conversation is stunting your growth as a leader. It’s not good for your team – they’ve been doing their best, and now how are they supposed to feel, when the person who is not performing gets to stay on board? And guess what? It’s not good for the underperformer, either!

Sure, keeping them around is “short-term good” for them. They don’t have to stress out about making the rent, or buying groceries, or getting a new job! But long-term? They’ll know. They’ll see that they aren’t fitting, that they aren’t growing, and it will eat them up from inside. Also, what’s worse: this situation is keeping them from finding the place where they DO belong, where they can perform and make a difference.

So get your firing game ON. That’s not to say that you should enjoy it. It’s saying: arm yourself with the honest conviction that it’s the best thing for everyone – for you, for the team, and for the person you are firing.

Have The Paperwork Down To A T

Be prepared. Review the contract of the person you’re firing. Know everything that there is to know about it. Look at the fine print. Know when the person started, know what she’s entitled to. Know the conditions of her employment and any provisions made for her leaving. No contract? Look at any records of your (or your company’s) agreement with her. Emails. Slack history. Talk to the people who hired her.

Have any performance reviews on hand. Talk to her colleagues. Talk to her supervisors. Get as much information you can about that human being. This will have a twofold purpose:

  1. When it comes to having the hard conversation, you’ll be armed to answer any question she might have. You should at least be able to explain the ”Why?” and the “How?”

  2. You’ll have the data you need to figure out exactly what benefits you can hand out. Be humane, and err on the side of generosity. Treat this person as you would like them to treat you, were the roles reversed.

Do you think that the benefits agreed upon in the contract are thin enough that the person will land in a tight spot? See what you can do besides what the company has committed to doing. Always go above and beyond the call of duty when someone’s livelihood is on the line. No-one will think less of you for it. In fact, your other employees will feel that you have their backs.

Do The Exit Interview – With The Right Mindset

Cutting your losses is all well and good, but you also want to learn. Also, when it comes to firing someone, the only way you’ll learn anything meaningful is by conducting an exit interview. But be clear from the get-go that you are willing to hear the employee’s side of the story, without judgment. Emphasize that they aren’t burning any bridges. A company that asks for feedback after the end of a relationship should be ready to take that feedback. If you’re not willing to use it to improve, then don’t ask for it in the first place.

That’s not to say that the exit interview should be an excuse for a frustrated employee to play the blame game. But then you should have the wisdom and the experience to be able to see the difference. If you’ve done the above parts right, that will reduce any ill-feelings toward you and the company. In a company that is serious about culture, accusations of mismanagement are worth investigating. Handle it in a way that protects all parties involved, until you can learn the truth.

Some of my favorite exit interview questions:

  • What could (the team / the company) have done to help you do a better job?

  • What was the most (stressful/unproductive) part of the role you performed with us?

  • What was the thing that you wish you had known about us when we were interviewing you for the position?

Feel free to add your own; make them as non-threatening as possible. Focus on processes, not people. That’s how you’ll get the most honest answers. Your goal here is to gather data that will allow you to avoid similar firings in the future.

Some Parting Words About Firing Remotely

A great deal of communication happens through corporal language. As it turns out, even the liveliest emoji is incapable of portraying the full breadth of human emotion. Who knew?! So when you’re handling anything sensitive – and I would say, firing a person is one of those – chat or email won’t cut it. Don’t be that person. A phone call isn’t any better. I mean, sure, you can get something from the tone of voice. But it’s not enough to make the person on the receiving end feel like she is being treated respectfully.

In this age of remote work, it might seem harder than ever to let go of people in the right away. But that’s more of a mental block than a practical one. Live video solutions, while not perfect, offer you the chance to recapture some of that body language magic. It won’t do you any good if you don’t take into consideration the earlier points; but it will enable you to perform them well, at a distance.

Try to make sure that the camera captures as much of your upper body as possible, not only your face. Also, practice looking at the camera while you speak. This technique will help you maintain an illusion of eye contact. Your automatic reflex will be to look at the screen, because hey, that’s where the other person is! But from her side, you’ll appear to be looking away from her. Not good.

Apart from that, do your best to keep a relaxed posture. Not so relaxed that it makes the other person feel you’re not handling them with attention! Calm and comfortable is what you’re aiming for, here. No arms resting on your legs; have them on top of the table. Sit up with your spine straight, and look the person in the eye (I mean, in the webcam!) while talking.

Pay attention to what she says, but also pay attention to your voice. If you control your tone of voice – again, keeping it calm, cool and collected – you will be automatically controlling your physiology. Regardless of how well or poorly they take the news, regardless of how calmly or hotly they ask you questions, use the sound of your calm voice to guide you through the interaction, to anchor your mood.

That’s it. You’re ready. Now do it*, and good luck!

*Only if you have to. Please don’t fire anyone to practice these tips.


Author Bio:  Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost – with no red tape and within two weeks.