When to Fire an Employee

One of the most difficult and anxiety inducing problems business owners eventually have to face is firing an employee. In most small businesses, you’ve worked long hours with the team member who you’re having to tell isn’t a good fit with your company, making the conversation and the aftermath even more difficult. You’re about to make a decision that will not only change the way that one employee thinks of you, but influence the way the rest of your employees think of you. Your company trusts and needs you to make wise decisions when hiring and firing. If a person isn’t a good fit culturally or not carrying their own weight, as a leader your company relies on you to be courageous enough to make that decision to let them go as quickly, wisely, and respectfully as possible.

The fact is, there shouldn’t be a situation where the employee already doesn’t know they’re about to be fired. They either know they’ve been consistently slacking and not meeting their goals, which you’ve been communicated to them in regular meetings. Or they know they’ve made rude verbal remarks that are against company policy. Whatever the reason is, they shouldn’t be surprised by the decision to let them go. When the time comes, it shouldn’t be an hour long conversation with the employee. It should be a very brief meeting where you let them know simply that you are letting them go and let them know the separation process for any severance or returning company property.

The key here is to be respectful, let them know you appreciate everything they’ve done and that your decision is final. This is not time for a discussion, the decision has been made. They shouldn’t leave that meeting thinking they’ve been wronged or insulted or that they can change your mind. They should understand that the next step for them is to move on and find somewhere else where they can invest themselves and grow.

Once the meeting is over, you need to take the time to speak to the rest of your employees of the decision. They need to hear it from you and informed of their job security. You should not go into details of why the team member was let go, but addressing the issue directly will prevent rumors and help other team members going forward to avoid certain behaviors. Within small companies, everyone spends at least 40 hours a week together. They have developed deep friendships with each other and care about their coworkers lives outside of work. You are making a decision that affects the rest of your employees and their future relationship with the individual. Even though it might be difficult, it’s incumbent on you to be transparent about the decision. The more clear you are, the more they’ll have more confidence in you as a leader. You want them to respect you, not fear you, so ask them to come speak to you personally if they have any questions or concerns.

Being patient and thoughtful in this decision exemplifies your character. It proves to your peers and employees that you have what it takes to run a company. It exemplifies your generosity as well if you take the extra step and help the employee in question find another job that they’re better suited for. By being wise during this time, you are proving to your current employees that you care and respect their humanity and contributions to the team.

Taking this step is extremely beneficial for your company and the rest of your employees. It allows you to cultivate an ambitious, hard-working, and optimistic culture that remains committed to a vision. By making this courageous decision to “prune the tree,” you’re allowing the rest of the company to grow faster, stronger, and healthier. By letting the employee go, you’re essentially making a public statement about type of employee you’re willing to hire and invest in. The rest of your current employees will notice this too and start taking the initiative to set the necessary goals for themselves.

While you’re reading this, you’re might be thinking about a certain employee that fits this description. They’re either slacking, not engaged, or disrespecting or disrupting other employees productivity. You’ve thought for multiple months if they’re a good fit for the company or if they’re currently happy in their position. I don’t want this to make you excited to let an employee go, but more to encourage you to do what is necessary when that time will eventually come. When it does and you’ve set your mind to let an employee go, I want you to feel comfortable and confident in your decision.

There is light on the other side. Your day-to-day life will become easier and both you and the previous employee will grow and learn from the situation. Afterwards you’ll feel better and your company will perform stronger. Be confident through the process and trust your decision. You will be proud of yourself and your other employees will respect you more for it.