No manager looks forward to firing someone on their team, but it’s an unfortunate reality that many eventually have to face. You may not have thought much about how to fire an employee until you found yourself in the position to do so. It’s a tough task to take on; one manager we spoke with about having to fire someone for the first time shares:

“I was definitely overwhelmed, and my supervisor told me I had to step up and take on the responsibility…I had every reason to let the person go, but it’s a draining experience to fire someone.”

A manager on firing someone for the first time

As one of the more challenging things you’ll do in your role, firing an employee impacts the person you let go, your team, and yes, even you as their manager. We spoke with team managers, employees, and HR professionals to compile real-world advice on how to navigate the termination process. Plus, tips on how to best show up for your team through the loss of their teammate.

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How to fire an employee: 6 tips from real life

1. Plan what you’ll say and follow company procedures

Preparing to fire someone means planning the difficult conversation you’ll have with them. Practice different ways of saying the tougher things until you find the right wording. Imagine you are on the receiving end of the information and think of what you would most want to know or hear. If you can, speak with other managers in your network to see if they have any tips or advice. Of course, be mindful of the details you share.

On a practical level, validate your company policy on firing an employee and connect with your human resource department. If you don't have an HR department, it's important to double-check that you're acting in accordance with employment law. Invite someone from HR to the termination meeting if possible to give technical information about severance, their final paycheck, or other details.

2. Take stock of how you feel

Check in with yourself and process your own feelings about firing this person. Taking time to reflect or write down what’s on your mind helps you separate facts from feelings. It’s natural for you to experience some frustration or even question yourself. A manager who had to fire a new employee for being dishonest told us:

“I was really disappointed…I spent a lot of time training her and I was looking forward to building our team. She seemed like a great fit. Hiring is such a tedious process, and it stings to find out that your judgment might have been off.”

A manager who fired a new hire for dishonesty

Once you’ve tapped into how you feel, you can better manage your emotions when you break the news to your team member. Having a steady demeanor keeps the conversation focused, and helps you adjust to the reactions of the person you’re firing.

3. Get your notes in order

Review your notes from conversations about the employee's performance. If they were on a performance improvement plan, you should have documentation to refer to. Establish a clear outline of what responsibilities or expectations were not met by your employee. Write a termination letter to give them that explains all of this, too.

If you have trouble keeping track of your one-on-one meetings, a software can help you out going forward. Officevibe’s one-on-one software stores your notes, action items, and meeting agendas all in one place. Having a single source of truth for commitments made in one-on-ones makes global reviews, like those required when firing an employee, simpler and more fact-based. 

4. Show kindness and empathy

A little bit of kindness goes a long way for a leader. Once you’ve reached the point of letting someone go, it doesn’t serve anyone to rehash what’s led up to this moment or vent your frustrations during the termination conversation. Asked what advice she’d give another manager who has to fire an employee, a former team lead shared:

“Don’t be a jerk…people make mistakes and getting fired sucks. Try to be as neutral as possible and always be respectful.”

One manager's advice on how to fire someone

Think about what you can say to this person that will be constructive. What can they take with them and apply as they move forward in their career path? If you have nothing kind and constructive to say, just keep it to the facts.

5. Be upfront and specific

Avoid ambiguity when it comes to why you’re firing them. Even if it’s uncomfortable or you’ve already discussed it, name the specific, lawful reason for ending their employment. Clarity is key, because as one person who’s been fired told us:

“I was left wondering what I did wrong and felt like I couldn’t come up with an answer. It gave me a lot of anxiety when I was applying for new jobs.”

An employee's experience of getting fired

Whether someone’s had poor performance, a pattern of problematic behavior or they made one big mistake, don’t assume that they have the same understanding of the situation as you. Explain the reasoning, give them a moment to process it, and answer any questions they have.

6. Give the employee space to speak

If you’re ready to fire someone, you’ve probably tried coaching, goal setting, or other performance development tactics with them. Despite your good intentions, this employee wasn't a good fit for your business and objectives. You undoubtedly have solid reasons for firing them, but be open to the possibility that you could learn something from this moment.

While your company’s HR team might conduct an exit interview, you can also take this opportunity to solicit some honest employee feedback from your departing team member. Ask them if they have feedback or anything else to share with you. You might be surprised by what you hear, and at the very least, you’ve given them the space to share their perspective and get some closure on their way out.

Tip: If emotions are too high or it feels like there’s a lack of respect, don’t open up a door for someone to say something they’ll regret. Use your judgment in going down this road.

Supporting your team along the way

When someone gets fired, it can dampen morale and even cause fear for the team they leave behind. As a manager, you want to support your team through this shift so your remaining employees continue to collaborate and perform.

Manage the change and protect team trust

  • Know what you can and can’t share with your team, and consider what information will be most useful to them. Be mindful with your transparency.
  • Address all of your team members together to explain the firing decision to them. Allow time for people to express themselves and ask question. If you can't get the whole team together, send a carefully crafted email to your employees.
  • Make space for people to express disappointment or other emotions. The fired employee may have still been a well liked, valued member of the team.
  • Reinforce your team or company values with your team. Aligning everyone around a shared vision helps avoid negativity and contention from developing on your team.
  • Have an action plan for how you’ll account for the workload the fired employee was responsible for, and give team members a say in who will take on what.
  • Be prepared for productivity to drop in the days following the employee termination, and be flexible with expected output and timelines. Your team might not continue functioning at the same capacity they did with an additional teammate.
  • Schedule a one-on-one meeting with each person on your team to discuss their colleague’s departure and address any questions or concerns.

After a stressful event like that of a team member's departure, people may feel like they need to speak up—but may be unsure if it's safe to do so. The Officevibe software gives employees an anonymous space to voice their concerns, and managers the opportunity to respond while maintaining the employee's anonymity. Plus, you can keep a pulse on how your team really feels with surveys that cover metrics like feedback and relationship with peers. These insights help you take action where it counts, and make one-on-one conversations more meaningful.

Firing someone is a tough thing for any manager to do, and leaves an impact on the team the terminated employee was a part of—including you. Be kind to yourself and to your team members as the dust settles. With the right approach, you can carry out this difficult conversation effectively and show up for your team through the loss.

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