Firing With Compassion
It is not a fun part of the job, but firing an employee is still part of every small business owner's responsibilities. Learn how to do it as compassionately and be as supportive as possible.
What do you do if you have a team member who has not grown with your company or who is no longer a good fit? Or, you are facing the unfortunate situation of needing to downsize? Do you know you should let them go, but you haven’t yet because they rely on you to put food on the table, or to pay their mortgage?
That is a complicated and sensitive position to be in, but there are things you can do to let them go in a way that is compassionate and supportive.
To start, you must first look at what you are and are not, responsible for.
You are not responsible for someone else’s livelihood—they are. You are not responsible for how someone else interprets a situation, or how they feel—they are. And you are not responsible for anyone else’s financial situation—they are.
You are responsible however, for how you treat people, how you feel, how you react, and how you approach this delicate situation.
When we let someone go, it can be easy to get into self-talk that they will not find another job, that it will bring hardship unto them, that it will burn a bridge, or some other tragic result. These are simply not true nor are they your responsibility.
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What these thoughts and worries do indicate is that you are a caring and thoughtful human. That you have invested time and energy into this team member, and even though it might be time to go your separate ways, you wish them success and happiness.
So, what are some ways to separate with care, integrity, and kindness? And, if the financial burden is a real concern how can you mitigate this as much as possible?
• Reflect on what has gone well and focus on this at the beginning of the conversation. Let them know with sincerity, what you have appreciated about them. Even if there is not much (and we all know this can happen), there is always something positive.
• Be honest about why you are choosing to let them go. This can be hard, we worry about other’s feelings, but doing this in a kind way is possible. But being dishonest and trying to cover up the real reason is lying. They will see right through it, which will leave the relationship on a negative note, which is unnecessary. And, as Kim Scott mentions in Radical Candor, this does no one any favors—be honest, but kind.
• Have empathy. This news can be devastating for some—express empathy but avoid too much emotional reaction. By being empathic, but firm, you allow a space for them to find their own strength and power. When we unnecessarily emote with them it emphasizes the tragedy and creates a space for victimhood to step in.
• Thank them sincerely for their service and then move on.
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As far as the money question is concerned, there are ways to help lessen the burden while they look for another job, here are a few to consider:
• Offer a severance, if you can afford it, to help tide them over until they find a new job. It takes time to find a job, and then there is always the wait for the first paycheck. So, if you can muster a full month’s pay, this is a generous gesture. But even one week is better than none and will show that this matters to you. Do not apologize if you cannot give as much as you wish you could.
• Consider giving a few weeks’ notice. This is often overlooked by employers because they worry the employee will sabotage them or steal from them. First off, this is such a horrible way to feel about an employee. And if you truly have someone like this on your team, then negate much of what I am saying here and ask them to leave, now. But most people are good. And if you handle this correctly, it can be a very kind way to bridge the time until they find a new position. We often ask, and even expect our employees to give us notice, why then do we not show them the same respect?
• Help them find another job. If this is an employee who is just not the right fit for your needs or culture, but could be terrific for another, help spread the word to your network that they are available, endorse them for their strengths, and be a positive reference. And remember, when we hire the wrong fit, it can make someone seem like a bad hire, even someone you do not like. But this is primarily because you made an incorrect choice, not that they are a bad person. So just because they did not work out for you, does not mean they will not work well for someone else.
Letting someone go can be very hard—in fact it can be just as devastating for you as it can be for them. But you are resilient, they are resilient, you both will be okay. And holding onto someone who should go is not fair to you and is especially not fair to them. You both deserve to work in places that make you happy and joyful. And trust me, if one of you is not, the other is not.
Erin Longmoon is the CEO of Zephyr Recruiting, which she founded in response to her clients’ needs for help in with building effective and successful teams. Zephyr Recruiting serves the small business community—the mom and pop places that are the backbones of our communities and our economy.