It's Not Personal, It's Business: When and How to Fire an Employee

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Firing an employee is never an easy decision, but as a manager and leader, it can be inevitable. These rules make the process easier.

It's never easy is it? Usually, you don't get sleep the night before you terminate an employee, and you may even feel bad despite the fact you've been enraged by him or her for the exact reason you need to fire them.

You probably have been a bit passive-aggressive because confrontation sucks. You beat yourself up for making a bad hire. We've all been there done that, haven't we?

You've also most likely waited too long too because it's always too late when you finally do fire them. You want it to work out—you may have had them on a performance plan and it still didn't work. Colleagues who work with them know they're underperforming, too, they're waiting and hoping you drop the hammer so they don't have to keep "making up" for work they rely on this person for. 

And you think back to when you interviewed them—it was a great interview, they meshed with almost everyone, said the right things and you thought they'd do a great job for you as well as hopefully fit in. The truth is you'll never know, even if their references check out (and they almost always do) until you hire them, give them goals, measure against them and hope they don't go down in flames.

But when they do flame out, you need to act on it and act on it fast. I've been there too many times. I wished I would have acted on it sooner. I shoulda, woulda, coulda, helped them more, integrated them more, spent more time with them, but I hired a self-starter so I wouldn't have to do that. 

So how long do you wait? How much time do you give them to correct the issue?

A good rule of thumb is at least 30 days to see if they respond to constructive criticism. There are times, however, when you have to cut the cord faster, your gut tells you it's never going to work out and the longer you give it the more stress you put you and your team under.

In that case, you need to let your employee know in no uncertain terms their conduct is affecting the growth of the company and the rest of the team, give them a performance improvement plan and if they're not improving they need to move on.

I hired a new employee for a company I worked for. I didn't know him, I had to rely on an interview and a few references. I feel like when you get someone new, they bring fresh and innovative ideas to a team that has worked together for a number of years and may grow all too familiar with how they do things.

So, I brought on this new team member and within weeks it was clear to me and the team that we definitely had a problem. I had to let this newbie go within weeks of joining the team. 

So what did I learn? 

Related Article: Dear BDC: How Do I Fire Someone?

Onboarding is Important!

Your new hire needs to know everything about your company, your vision, your story, why you do what you do, what drives you and your business. They need to know all about the products and/or service you sell, even if they're not in sales but in finance.

Training videos are a great way to "do it once" instead of each and every time you hire someone. At my company, we use our own lingo so we developed our own glossary so that newbies can refer to it if they don't understand what is being talked about.  

Honesty is The Best Policy

You need to meet with your new hire regularly (daily at the start!) and be brutally honest with them about what you expect. If they don't understand their place in the business, what they're responsible for and what their goals are, you can't blame them for your disappointment.

But if they're keenly aware of what they need to do and they're not doing it you need to address it with them quickly, honestly and professionally. Make sure you give examples of what it is that is making you unhappy, and ways to improve to make you happy!  

Set Expectations Up Front

If you hired a self-starter setting expectations should be simpler than setting them for a task-master. For these types of positions you need to get granular. Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Based).

The more specific you can be the more you can specifically point to the good, bad and the ugly.

Related Article: HR Horror Stories: What’s the Absolute Worst Thing You Could Do on the Job?

Take Action

If you've done everything you can do and it's still not working out you need to just let them go. Keep the conversation short and factual, don't say you're sorry, avoid consoling, just tell them when their last day is, why they're being fired, when they'll be getting their last paycheck, when you expect any company belongings returned to you and leave it at that.

End the conversation as quickly as possible. If you've followed the above steps chances are this won't come as a surprise to them.

Bottom Line

It’s business, not personal and that's exactly how you have to treat this decision. The quicker you take action the better, it sends a message to your team that you value their time and what they contribute to the business and that when someone isn't doing what's expected of them, you're not going to stand by and watch.

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