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How to Fire Someone

How to Fire Someone

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    By trade and training I am a writer and editor. I never had any education in managing people until I received the best kind: being thrust into the middle of it and being forced to learn without any preformed conceptions from some old tradition of management that academics espouse. I’m not belittling education. It would have been helpful, and trained managers are no doubt much better than me. But sometimes it’s good to get involved in something without the notions instilled in you that everyone else has.

    Management is pretty easy for me, but I remember that one thing that got me at first was letting people go. It was hard, it sucked, and at first, I lost sleep over it. I am not the kind of guy who likes to displease people. For the record, it is still hard, it still sucks, and yeah, sometimes I still lose sleep over it. When I was appointed to a management position that required me to get rid of a whole lot of deadwood and revitalize a project, I didn’t sleep much at all for a week.

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    I often wondered — if I’d had some education in management, would this come easier to me? Would I have learned some of the skills and techniques required to let people go? For some reason I doubt there’s much that makes it easier, but there are probably a few tricks you learn in business school that would help. I don’t have those. What I have got is what I’ve figured out on my own, sometimes after making painful mistakes. I hope you don’t make them yourself.

    Image by texas_mustang.

    Be Honest

    I don’t mean to say you have to tell the individual in question what a terrible and incompetent person they are and that you’ve hated every piece of work they have done for you.

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    What I mean is that there’s a big temptation to color the truth, tell half-truths or even complete lies (though they do seem to be, at first white lies), in order to comfort the individual losing their paycheck. We know it’s painful to be let go and for most people, the natural instinct is to want to lessen that pain.

    The bottom line is: if you tell them that they were good at their job, they’ll just be confused, and they’ll still be hurt because they are suddenly out of an income. The obvious exception is when you’re firing them because of redundancy or downsizing, in which case they quite possibly could’ve been good at their job and they’ll be getting some compensation to keep them going for a while anyway.

    Be Neutral

    It is important to be as emotionally neutral as you can be. You don’t want to be flustering with smiles and sympathy, and you don’t want to be cold and harsh. Keep it pleasant, but don’t be too friendly. You are not their comforter and trying to be will result in trouble. Let them down as easy as you can without being unprofessional, and then let them go home to their spouse, family or friends for that comfort.

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    It’s worth reiterating that being neutral doesn’t mean being cold or putting on your poker face. Be nice, but not too nice or not nice enough.

    Be Empathetic

    Be empathetic, not sympathetic. Do understand the individual’s situation. Be understanding when you talk to them and they get angry or frustrated — don’t flip out back at them. Be understanding and refer them to some kind of resource that advertises jobs for people in their field (one site I manage is convenient in that we run a job board). All in all, be understanding. Provide whatever assistance you can and whatever resources your company offers outgoing employees (or even long-time contractors).

    Be Decisive

    Make sure you are decisive in tone and wording. If, in your uncertainty and unease, you use wording that seems less certain but gives them wiggle room to argue their way back in, they’ll try and take it. Sure, their attempts might not succeed — you’ve only said things that way to make things less uncomfortable for yourself, not because you meant it. But it will make things very uncomfortable and opens the door for a very heated argument.

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    Get It Done

    Don’t look for way to put off the firing. It’s got to be done and delaying the inevitable makes it harder for you. It may even leave the individual in question feeling a bit nervous — I’ve read some professionals say that, according to research, employees almost always know when they’re about to be sacked.

    It is plainly more difficult and stressful for everyone involved when you put off the firing until another day. Once the decision has been made, make the arrangements straight away.

    No Martyrs

    Don’t make a martyr of the employee. Every time you let someone go it should be done respectfully and privately. You should have someone else present to act as a witness because often, firing someone causes them to go after you with lawyers. That individual should be one of your own colleagues or a superior of yours — nobody equal to them in the organization. Being fired with one of your peers present is embarassing for the individual.

    Firing people isn’t easy. It probably does not become easy for anyone, though you might become desensitized to it. These tips will ensure you do a job you can’t kick yourself for afterwards and help prevent any escalations in the situation or any false hope in the terminated individual’s mind.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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