Danielle M. Verderosa

Danielle M. Verderosa

President, HR Allies

The Art of Firing – It’s Easier Than You Think

In the movies, bosses fire employees by simply yelling “You’re fired! Get out!”

Or on the other end of the spectrum, firing someone in the movies is a protracted, rambling, wishy-washy monologue full of apologies and regret.

But how do bosses fire employees in real life?

Many of my clients have little or no experience with actually firing employees for poor performance or bad behavior, so they’re filled with anxiety when they actually do have to confront a problem employee and let them go.

I’ve never met one client who wants to avoid separating with a bad employee … but they tell me they lose sleep and are at a loss for the right words when it comes time to actually having the difficult “you’re fired” conversation.

In fact, the first boss I ever had told me that she was so tactful, kind, and positive when she fired her first employee that the employee didn’t even realize they were fired and showed up to work the next day.

The silver lining for bosses who are nervous about firing someone is that the termination conversation is one of the shortest, simplest employee conversations there is.

By the time you get to the point where an employee needs to be terminated, the time for confrontation, negotiations, bargaining, discussions, and acrimony is over. 

All that’s left is to deliver the bad news, respectfully and quickly.

The basic termination framework goes like this:

First, sit them down in a private space without distractions, and tell them right up front “This is going to be a difficult conversation for both of us.” 

That gives the employee a chance to be alert and steel himself for what’s about to come.

Then continue:  “As you know, we’ve had several discussions about (insert deficiency here.) Despite those discussions, though, I still haven’t seen the improvement that we have to have. So for that reason, we need to let you go and today is going to be your last day here.”

Then I like to silently count slowly to 3 so that there’s a little time for that to sink in, and then segue straight to the practical items that need to be communicated, like this:

“You’ll be paid through Friday, and your last check will be direct deposited for you on March 1. Your benefits will end on February 29, but you’ll get information in the mail about how you can continue your benefits on your own through COBRA after that. You might be eligible for unemployment benefits, so I encourage you to go online and file for those.”

If they’re in the office, ask them for their keys, ID card, and any other company equipment that was issued to them, as well as passwords and pins you might need so you can access the things they were working on.

And then to end the conversation, wish them the best and shake their hand.

The termination conversation is short, one-sided, and respectful.  Trust me, neither one of you wants this conversation to take more than a few minutes. 

I’m sometimes asked which is the best time and day to fire someone.  Not surprisingly, I have an opinion on that!

It may seem counterintuitive, but Fridays are the worst day to fire someone.  They leave your office feeling dejected (to say the least) and their ego is hurt … and if this happens on a Friday afternoon, they have two full days to do nothing but wallow in that very low place without the ability to reach out to co-workers (or you) for some answers.

And the more time they feel low and isolated, the angrier or more unstable they may become.

If I’m able to design when an employee should be terminated, I’d choose Wednesday mid-afternoon.  Mid-afternoon gives them the dignity of leaving the building earlier than the rush of co-workers, letting them avoid having people see them at their most vulnerable and emotional stage.

Terminating on Wednesdays lets the former employee take a full 24 hours to process what just happened – they’re not thinking clearly at all when you’re letting them go — and then have time to reach out to you on a Friday before you disappear for the weekend.

They may have practical questions, like “tell me again when my health insurance ends?” More often, they just want the chance to explain their side of things now that they’ve had a little time to practice what they wish they’d said to you at the time.

This is a one-sided conversation with them doing all the talking.  Even if they’re trying to talk you out of firing them or arguing with you why you are making a mistake, stay calm and neutral while being firm in your decision.

Hearing them out, patiently and respectfully, is key for them moving on with as little rancor as possible.


What other emotional HR situations would like you help with?  Get in touch with me at danielle@hrallies.com If you ask, I’ll answer in future blog posts! 


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