Firing a Small Business Employee without Burning Bridges

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In a perfect world, nobody would need to let go of staff, but unfortunately from time to time firing an employee becomes a necessity. It’s not always because of a failure to do their jobs. Sometimes you simply can’t afford to keep someone on staff and the decision to let them go is forced. No matter what the reason is for letting an employee go, you should try to be as diplomatic as possible in these times. Professionalism should not disappear in stressful situations, rather it should become even more apparent. The true test of a diplomatic business owner is how well they are able to perform in the worst of times. You never know when you will be glad you didn’t burn a bridge, but courtesy and a positive influence on your community should come standard regardless.

Keep the firing between you and the employee. In most situations, it will eventually become obvious that the employee in question is gone. You don’t need to trumpet the news unless the employee was sacked because of a criminal violation, and even then, it’s better not to name names. Privacy is a professional courtesy. Not only that, but it can significantly lower the morale in an office if news of a firing gets out of hand.

Hold the meeting in a neutral area. While calling an employee into your office might seem like the best choice simply because it’s easiest, you may in fact want to hold the meeting in a more neutral environment such as a conference room. Psychologically, this can lessen the feelings of powerlessness and victimization that comes from the employee. While it may be traumatic for them regardless, at least it demonstrates that you have thought about the decision and are not approaching it from an unfair angle.

Explain the decision, being firm yet fair. You owe the employee at least the reason why they are being fired. If you can’t explain to them why they are being let go in a way that makes objective sense, then it may be the case that they don’t deserve to be shown the door. When they argue, remain firm. You should have thought about the counterpoints they will bring up and be prepared to acknowledge them without giving ground on your position. In the end, since you are the business owner they will be bound to your decision regardless, but that’s not to say you should simply drop your pronouncements on them and not explain yourself. It may even be the case that they were unaware of the negative impacts of their behavior or unwilling to fix them until the point that they had real consequences.

Provide follow up material. If possible, have a packet containing an FAQ and next steps for your former employee. In business, giving people the essential information that they need and making sure they aren’t dropped into a bad situation with no clear next steps is a waste of their time and money and quite rude. Odds are they will have questions regarding their duties, payments and other business details. Collect that information and put it together for them, it’s the right thing to do.

You never know what connections can become important down the road. In all things, maintain a courteous and professional attitude. It will serve you well and help you to strengthen the connections you make. No reputation is spotless in the eyes of everyone, but if you are able to be consistently regarded as a positive influence in your community, that will far outweigh the odd bit of negative attention.

Photo Credit to  tree & j hensdill on Flickr

One Response to “Firing a Small Business Employee without Burning Bridges”

  1. Andrew,
    I enjoyed your article. It was a nice point to choose a neutral location for the discussion and keep it quiet. Getting fired is embarassing and the thought of being seen as a joke after you’re gone can be infuriating. After coaching an employee through the learning process, the act of letting someone go is usually simple. The employee made my decision for me by their own actions, so how can I feel bad? I would mention that every person isn’t right for every job, and that’s a good thing. I love that you include providing the information they will need to move forward. You don’t want previous employees calling the office or stopping by the office to ask about insurance, unemployement, etc.

    As the decision maker, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time. Sometimes you have to disappoint a few. It’s not an easy place to be in. Following these tips, being respectful, honest, and fair will go a long way toward building a solid organization and allowing you to sleep at night.

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