Management Skills:
How to Fire an Employee

It’s inevitable that most, if not all, small business owners will have to find out how to fire an employee at some point. Unfortunately, whilst nobody likes having to fire someone, it comes with the territory when you’re a business owner.

"Firing is not something you do to someone; firing is something you do for someone" Larry Winget

One of the concepts that business coaching teaches is to act upon problems as they occur and to not allow them to escalate. In this way you can create a ‘problem-free zone’ for your business.

Deal with small problems as they crop up and they won’t turn into much bigger problems further down the line.

This is particularly important when you’re dealing with people problems. If you notice problems, handle them immediately. A good manager provides on-going feedback so that the employee is clear about what is expected from them.

If the problem continues give them a warning of the possible outcome so they have the opportunity to change.

Before you fire someone

Before you get to the point of working out how to fire an employee, it’s a good idea to work out why you actually want to fire them. You will need to give them specifics so it helps to start keeping a list of their problem behaviors. For example:

  • They don’t have the necessary skills to perform their job competently
  • They don’t get along well with the rest of the team and negatively impact morale
  • They are not completing all of the requirements of their job description

For each of the points you list try to have a specific example to back up your case.

The next step is to check your contractual obligations. Take care to make sure you have covered all the legalities.

And, just in case the person you are firing becomes resentful and vengeful, protect your business by changing locks, access codes and passwords where necessary.

The firing conversation

Nobody enjoys confrontational conversations but it’s important that you act quickly and have a meeting face to face with the employee when you’re firing them. Don’t do it over the phone or email and don’t delegate the task to someone else.

Sometimes it helps to know that by firing somebody you are teaching them an important career lesson. Many people who get fired go on to find work that is much better suited to them and consequently more fulfilling.

Some tips on how to fire an employee:

  • Choose a time and a place so you won’t be disturbed
  • Start by explaining what’s not working and refer back to previous feedback you’ve given and previous warnings
  • Give examples of problems that have occurred
  • Be direct and honest - avoid jargon and trying to soften the message with sugar-coating
  • Stay calm and professional
  • If you think they’re in the wrong job and would be better suited to something else, tell them. Your insight as an employer may be useful to them
  • Be empathetic but stick to your decision – if you know your business is better off without this employee, don’t allow yourself to be talked out of it

How do you actually tell someone they're fired?

In addition to the tips above on how to fire an employee, the best advice is to get straight to the point and avoid getting in to general chit-chat.

Here's an example of how you can begin:

"I'm afraid I've asked you to this meeting because I need to tell you that we/I have decided to let you go from your job here. As you are aware from previous discussions some areas of your work are below expectations and there's been no improvement in the agreed time frames. This is causing other problems in the business such that we're unable to keep you employed in this job. I'm sorry things haven't worked out for you here but wish you luck finding something more suitable"

Business Coaching Questions:

  • Have you made your expectations clear to any problem employees as problems occured?
  • Have you given them all the resources they need to succeed?
  • What changes might you need to make to your recruitment process?

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