Three Rules for Firing People

I did executive career counseling long before ‘You’re fired!” became a meme. That’s how I got to thinking about how end of a job is similar to the end of life. Having made this connection, three guiding principles came into focus. They are:

Maintain a ‘least restrictive’ environment.

This means allowing the dying 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. It includes no tying them down or stopping them from eating as much ice cream as they want. And it means that when you’ve decided to fire someone, you don’t add a negative evaluation or otherwise spirit-damaging experience on the eve of their impending separation. You let them say goodbye with grace.

Make the transition as painless as possible.

Having someone pay attention and act to ease a dying person’s pain, boredom, or distress is a blessing. In business, just do something nice – whatever your custom is when someone goes on leave, or perhaps the offer of professional help with a resume. It feels bad enough to get cut from the team, especially when you liked the job. Don’t compound the pain by omitting the niceties or worse, by being mean about it.

Avoid false hope, but be sympathetic.

Job termination is very much like a DNR, the order to health care staff to not resuscitate a dying person. As with getting fired, often the person who carries out the DNR isn’t the one who made the decision. This depersonalizes the situation and makes it easier to not act to save someone – even someone you know can’t be saved. Sad to say, many job firings are strong on depersonalization, but completely lacking in the caring part. What if, instead, you could add just one small word of regret?

You can love people out or cut them out. It’s your choice.

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