Firing an employee is one of the most important tasks of leadership and one of the most difficult.  People enter into working agreements with intent to benefit both parties, and no employer wants to fire someone. Consequently, employers often experience trepidation and concern, even when the termination is justified.

Retaliation and lawsuits are feared. Pain of failure or guilt that the relationship was not successful, and concern about the impact on the employee’s life cause anxiety.  Anger and resentment about the employee’s failure to perform to expectations may linger for months.

With the knowledge that every reasonable effort to address and remediate an individual’s performance concerns have been made and expectations and evaluations have been provided, the termination process can begin.  Remember, being fired or losing a job for any reason, is considered to be one of the top five most stressful life experiences.

Consider the following as you prepare to terminate an employee:


Determine the specific outcome you want to achieve as a result of the conversation. Establish the rationale for the termination based on objective accurate data.  This will help to ensure that the employee understands the reasons for being fired. If an argument ensues, simply re-state the decision and facts.


Review performance expectations with all employees when they are hired and provide evaluations on a regular basis.  If an employee has performance issues, be sure that ample notice has been given, along with opportunities for remediation or recovery.  Ensure fair and equal treatment with others similarly situated.  An employee should never be surprised about a termination. A fair and respectful process tends to prevent or mitigate contentious and adversarial situations.


Always be as kind as possible.  Do what you can to help the employee save face and preserve their dignity.  Never humiliate or shame someone. Put yourself in their place. Fear, anger and hurt are most likely what they will be feeling.


Separate the person from the problem. Acknowledge your own thoughts, feelings and attitudes and do not project them onto the employee. Use simple, clear language without equivocation. Be resolute. The separation is not negotiable.  Focus on creating a constructive outcome for the company and the individual.


What can you learn about yourself from the experience?  What was effective? What can be improved? Acknowledge your mistakes and consider what factors contributed to the problem with the employee.  Were there issues that they brought with them that were unknowable prior to hiring?  Were they not managed effectively? Could this person have been saved? This step will provide an important learning experience.

Take care to ensure a fair and respectful work relationship and environment so that employees understand the rules and expectations. The termination conversation will then simply end the employment relationship — no surprise. Even though the talk is tough and never pleasant, you may feel upset, but your conscience can be clear.