How to Fire Someone

Ok I’ll admit it: I like power. I like to have it, I like to exercise it, I like it a whole lot. And I even like the responsibility that comes with it.

Sometimes it gets me places I didn’t think I’d ever be going. Like having to advise someone to fire someone. Sort of. Being the kind and gentle soul I am, I describe it as ‘loving them out.’

Now with something as delicate as this, there are tough decisions to be made. Sometimes basic values apply cleanly. Sometimes they don’t. My usual approach to this kind of ambiguity is to look for situations that are somewhat similar and use them to identify an answer. So being in health care at one time in my young life, I turn that way for guidance in the form of these three principles:

Maintain a ‘least restrictive’ environment.

In the healthcare world (particularly mental health) this means allowing the person the latitude to do what they need or want to do, as long as it doesn’t compromise their own, or other people’s, safety. This means that when you’ve decided to let someone go, don’t pile on a terrible evaluation or otherwise spirit-damaging experience the eve of their impending separation. All you’ll do is create more stress and the unpredictable behavior that can accompany it.

Make the transition as painless as possible.

In the healthcare world, I am talking about taking action to ease pain and distress, any way that’s effective. In the employment world, I’m saying that when people are on the way out, even if no one really likes them, you might want to provide a farewell lunch or cake and/or group card…whatever. It feels bad enough to get cut from the team, especially when you liked the job. Don’t make it worse by making it seem they’re being punished.

Avoid false hope, but be sympathetic.

In the health world, this refers to the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order when someone is beyond help. In employment world, termination is very much like a DNR. There’s an order stating that a person has to go, and usually the person who carries out the order isn’t the one who made the decision in the first place. (Think about that for a moment. The power of attorney holder is not the one making the decision that the person will be let go either. That decision takes place at a higher level, so to speak.) So while it’s important for the bearer of bad news to depersonalize the process, what if the terminator could simply add regrets like, I’m sorry.

You can love people out or just kill them off.

And you have the power to choose.

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