How to Fire Someone?
November 16, 2004 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Any advice on the least dehumanizing way to fire someone? I'm not so much worried about the mechanics of when to do it as how. What would you want to hear from your boss if you were let go tomorrow that wasn't merely blowing smoke up your posterior?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Straight up. Call them in the office, look them in the eye, and say you're letting them go.
posted by crunchburger at 5:44 PM on November 16, 2004

Doesn't it depend on why that someone is being fired?
posted by normy at 5:45 PM on November 16, 2004

By the time you get to the firing stage in most places (assuming your company believes in warnings and other ways of treating employees like human beings, and/or the employee has acted so egregiously that it should be obvious to them), all you should have to say is "I'm sorry, it's simply not working out, we have to let you go, I'll accompany you to your desk now so that you can clean it out", and that's it. There should be no song and dance, no discussion, and if an explanation is required, keep it to one sentence ("Your actions with regard to foo was an actionable offense according to company policy"), they don't want that and neither do you. Keep it short, one or two sentences should be it. Good luck, firing was always my least favourite job.
posted by biscotti at 5:51 PM on November 16, 2004

The advice I got that was good was, "Make sure you fire him before his butt hits the chair," which is to say I agree with crunchy/biscotti (yum!).
posted by planetkyoto at 6:03 PM on November 16, 2004

Don't blow smoke up their posterior.

Seriously, the best way to handle something like this--and I've handled it far more than I'd like to have--is to just be straightforward with the person and treat them like an adult who can take bad news standing up.

If they're being fired "for cause", then hopefully they've had ample warning that they're on the brink, but even if not, it's important that they know it was at least a big part of the decision. There are a lot of people out there who _could_ be much better at their jobs, if they just honestly took stock of where they are, professionally. For some of them, getting fired "constructively" is the kick-in-the-butt they need to either do a much better job next time, or admit this isn't what they really want to do, and find something else.

If they're being fired for reasons beyond their control (and maybe even yours), then honesty is still the best answer. Being told "You did a great job, and you gave me a lot of ammunition to fight for you, but in the end, I just didn't have the leverage" lets someone walk out with their chin up high.

Couple more things I always try to say, if I can say them honestly (if less stiffly):

1) "Like it or not, this is an inflection point for you, and I have every confidence that you're going to land on your feet. I really believe that in a year or so, you're going to be very happy with where you are, and you're going to look back on how you deal with this as an important part of how you got there."

2) "Do not hesitate to cite me as a reference for any job you're pursuing--I will, of course, be honest with them like I would be for anyone else who's worked for me, but I'm happy to put in an enthusiastic effort into helping you land your next position."
Even better: "I'm giving you a letter of recommendation that you should feel free to use whenever it's appropriate. You can also invite any potential employer to call me for a reference."

Like I said, I've had to let more people go than I'd like to count, but it doesn't have to be a humiliating experience. I'm sure some of them hate me (fairly or not), but I'm actually working with three people right now that I've had to let go in past of them works for me again, and two others have hired my consulting firm after they found work client-side. It's definitely possible to make the best of this, as painful as it is.
posted by LairBob at 6:09 PM on November 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

Looking at what other folks have said, compared to my response, I'd just add that the tenor, and the length of the conversation should have a lot to do with the nature of your relationship.

If they're basically just someone you work with, then you should just tell them the news, short and to the point.

On the other hand, if it's someone _you_ hired, that _you've_ been managing and even mentoring, then I think it definitely is important to frame the whole thing more completely, like I described.
posted by LairBob at 6:15 PM on November 16, 2004

Watch yourself with the reference letters. Most companies don't allow anyone to act as reference or put anything down on paper with respect to a terminated employee, even if they leave voluntarily. It puts yourself in a theoretically actionable position should they go on and underperform at other companies.
posted by loquax at 7:04 PM on November 16, 2004

Everyone else has said it and I'll add to it. Be straight, to the point and as compassionate as possible w/o being maudlin or giving false hope. Clearly state the reasons w/o prejudice or malice (even if there is some). Do say you're sorry, wish them the best and try to answer any questions honestly. That being said, don't drag it out or give false hope.
posted by damnitkage at 7:35 PM on November 16, 2004

Although I agree with the comments of most of the people on this thread, it strikes me that it's possible that this question might have been asked anonymously not because of conflicts-of-interest caused by the poster revealing a position of power on the internet, but because the person being fired might be being fired for a shitty or creepy reason.

I don't have any answers for this question, but I think it could be useful for people "in the know" to answer this question from the point of view that the "firee" is being let go because of outsourcing or something that can't be completely justified legally.
posted by interrobang at 8:28 PM on November 16, 2004

Look it happened to me in the worst possible way ( I'll spare the details, but afterward, I heard that the HR person who did it was demoted because of the shoddy job). But, be human have an outlined list of of why , and if it is policy to clear out office and call security, try to make sure no one else (friends co-workers) is around. I am not sure which is best, but I would say at the end of the day on a Friday helps.
posted by Duck_Lips at 10:23 PM on November 16, 2004

One time when I was let go (laid off, not fired) unexpectedly, they laid me off on Thursday morning but paid me for Thursday and Friday, gave me two weeks' severance, and paid out my vacation, including a week I'd actually taken two months previously. When my boss found out they were stiffing me from getting my first batch of options (I was one day short of my anniversary), he promised to get them for me anyway -- and did. It nearly made up for him giving me two sizable jobs the day before which "had to be done by the end of the day" and which I stayed late to complete. That should have been a tip-off, but never having been laid off before, I missed it.

But other than that, I'd say this is a good way to let someone go -- give them a month's worth of money, and some stock options, and help them carry their stuff to the car.
posted by kindall at 10:52 PM on November 16, 2004

"You did a great job, and you gave me a lot of ammunition to fight for you, but in the end, I just didn't have the leverage"

If I was fired this would be an answer good enough to make me feel dignified.

Maybe a weeks pay as consolation, and the professional aspect.
posted by Keyser Soze at 10:54 PM on November 16, 2004

Just don't do what my former boss tried to do. Fire the guy behind his back.

It didn't work then (I found out and fixed the situation), and worse yet, it'll turn out bad for you (The former boss really is former -- he quit doing the boss part of his job 4 months after I left. To the guy who I worked with for 2 years.)

Yeah. Take him in the office and tell him he's done. Nicely.
posted by shepd at 10:55 PM on November 16, 2004

When I popped my boss cherry and fired my first minion, it was two days of private agonizing followed by two minutes of actual firing. He was being fired for a very specific reason, I stated it, he challenged it, I restated it, and he was gone.

So it's good that you're wondering about it (it means you are human, not a robo-boss) and will probably be able to roll with whatever scenerio the minion's being fired under.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:02 AM on November 17, 2004

There's some great adivce here. I'll also add: make sure you talk to the person's co-workers quickly and professionally. The first concern after the actual firing is making sure the staff understands what's going on, and controlling rumours. Remember the ex-employee may still talk to his friends in the office, so don't say anything untoward at anytime.

As a tangent, as robocop is bleeding (love the nick!) says above you are human and you will feel like crap when it's over. Don't be too hard on yourself -- it sounds like you're doing this carefully and with concern for the other person. By the next day although you still might feel like 'that guy who fires people', most of your staff and co-workers will act as though nothing happened.
posted by jess at 8:55 AM on November 17, 2004

In a perverse way, any way you can provoke the response "You can't fire me! I quit!" would be good. But that's why I haven't supervised anyone since 1978.
posted by wendell at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2004

here's a good way not to do it: suspend the employee on friday morning, telling them that you will call them over the weekend to let them know when their suspension will end.

don't call them over the weekend.

wait for the employee to call you monday morning and then say "oh, yeah, well, we decided to let you go. i'll have someone waiting in the parking lot with your things if you want to come by in the next 15 minutes."

that is most definitely not the way to fire someone.

just imagine it was you getting fired, and try to treat the firee with whatever level of respect would let you feel even a little bit dignified about the whole situation if it was you. as far as i've seen, any firing that doesn't make a person want to kill themselves out of shame for the rest of the week is WAY above par for the course.
posted by pikachulolita at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2004

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