The Gentle Art of Firing Someone

The news seems to get worse everyday.  Thousands of people are losing their jobs because of the economic meltdown.  Firing someone is always difficult, especially for poor performance.  But today, many employees being fired are good at their jobs.  They’re out because the company is performing poorly.  Senior management may actually be the culprits.  There is the surgical way and the gentle way to fire somone.

The Surgical Way

In large companies dozens of people may be let go in single day.  It’s surgical – like a knife slicing off a limb. And that’s how it feels, too. Don’t let them back in their office, shut down their computers and escort them out the door as quickly as possible like common criminals.  At least that’s how it feels to someone who was gainfully employed at 9 a.m. and finds himself out on the street an hour later, stripped of his ID badge and told not to try to reenter the premises.

This isn’t speculation.  It’s happening every day.  Isn’t there a more gentle way of letting people go who have done nothing more than become an expense the company can no longer afford?   Many companies are afraid that an employee may steal company secrets or sabotage the computer system.  But how realistic is this?  If an employee wanted to steal secrets or keep samples of her work, she no doubt would have done it long ago.

The Gentle Way

Everything you read about firing someone advises to make it private, to spare the employee’s feelings.  But I have a different idea.  Why not assemble all the people being let go that day in a conference room.  Tell them they are being laid off, not because of anything they did wrong, but because of the economy. Tell the assembled group, after your briefing, that you wish them well, they are good people and you are sorry they need to leave right now. Let them go back to their desks where an outplacement executive can watch as they access their computer to copy any personal information they may need and to send some emails to their friends in the company to say goodbye.  Have that person help them to pack up.  A handshake from the boss never hurt either.

Establish a dedicated website where those who were let go can share job leads, resumes and just chat about how they are feeling.  Having a virtual place to go will enable the group members to take care of each other.  Have someone in the company online for the first 30 days (or more) to answer questions.  Then you can let go of the lifeline as the group coalesces.

People laid off aren’t statistics.  They are individuals who deserve to be treated with dignity.

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  1. What about a member of management escorting the former “team” member to their desk and supervising as they pack their personal items and leave?

    Wouldn’t want them to take away any trade secrets now, would we?