The Art of Letting An Employee Go


Beverly & Pack / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The art of letting an employee go. The right way and wrong way and how to think through the process?

A leader’s work is never easy and letting go of a staff member isn’t a walk in the park either.  That said there is a right way and a wrong way I believe to let an employee go.  Always consult your employee, company handbook and procedures for guidance. Here are some idea’s for you to consider and think through as you work through the process of letting a staff member go.

Letting go of a staff member requires serious thought and consideration on your part as a leader and especially so, if they have been one of your finest caliber. It is important to also ask yourself some key questions before acting too quickly. We will discuss these further.

As I reflect back on my time as a Customer Service Manager and Branch Manager in the travel industry in the UK, there were just a few times I had to let an employee go. Not something I enjoyed doing at all.  And in the process of doing so, never did I attempt to destroy a person’s self concept no matter what they were being let go for.  To the contrary, always focused on the behavior not the person. Certainly, I’d be the one to let a staff member go and not my assistant or senior consultant.  I think it is your job as a leader to let a staff member go if possible. I don’t agree with delegating this particular responsibility necessarily unless required by your employer. Like me, If you are the kind of leader that has a heart and genuinely care about your team, staff then letting them go is never easy.  Just as in business sometime partners decide to part ways because things are not working out over a period of time.

Certainly as parents, when we address a child’s performance we address the behavior, we don’t tell them they are a bad person. So when it comes to letting an employee go, tact and addressing the behavior is key and not trying to make the person feel wrong or bad as a person.

Questions that a leader must ask before letting a staff member go might include:

  • 1) Can this behavior be changed with the appropriate help, support and training?
  • 2) Do they know clearly what is expected of them?
  • 3) Have we communicated our expectations clearly, do they understand?
  • 4) How have they performed over the long haul?
  • 5) Is this behavior an isolated incident?
  • 6) What would the risk or cost be if we kept them?
  • 7) What do we lose and or gain by letting them go?

These questions may help you to think through the process more and of course consult your company employee handbook.

My husband and I recently encountered a situation where a youth, a neighbor had acted inappropriately and we were faced with a decision on what we thought the discipline ought to be when asked.  Being a Life Coach naturally I have a great deal of compassion, caring and understanding and so my husband and I went back and forth on this issue. I felt that it would be in the best interest of the youth to have a lesser discipline and be given the opportunity to work on his behavior. To rehabilitate and give a chance to be that great person he is. A school of thought is that people will live up to what we except of them, this can be positive or negative of course. A mentor of mine, taught me to put a “10” on people, expect the best of them, to look for their seeds of greatness.

Certainly, looking at a person’s positive actions and contributions and behavior over a significant course of time will tell you much more about a person rather than zeroing in on some isolated or one time or two goof up in the office. Have we not all made mistakes in our lives? Non of us are perfect.

And sometimes we do need to let an employee go at the office. The aim is not to destroy a person’s self concept in the process and so how do you think through the process of letting an employee go? What can you do?

1. Reaffirm the expectations for suitable behavior the standard if you will. Self check was this clearly communicated? Was the standard set and communicated openly and professionally and often?

2. Do speak to the behavior rather than the person. Say things like “actions like this or this kind of behavior is not acceptable” Don’t say things like “you are or you always”

3. Don’t wait and be passive in addressing the behavior. Nip it in the bud. If the behavior is unacceptable let it be known early on not months or even years later! Sometimes you hear of a manager keeping a staff member on until they have met their office targets, seriously if you need to let the staff member go, set aside your own agenda and be what’s right.

4. Be respectful. Always be respectful. Treat others as you’d like to be treated.    

5. Trust. When it comes to building trust it takes time. If you want to be respected as a leader don’t go around gossiping about other staff members. This makes you look immature and untrustworthy. When a staff member confides in you, it is wise to honor and respect that.

6. Read between the lines. A good leader can ‘SEE’ what’s really going on. Before you let go any staff member, always be sure to assess the big picture. I once had a situation (2) staff members long timers were hoping for promotion. A newcomer we hired was performing really well. The two long timers unknown to me then, had deliberately set out to sabotage the newcomer in efforts to protect their territory, so to speak. Unfortunately this back fired and the newcomer ended up with the promotion. Workplace shenanigans like this, zero tolerance. As it happens the newcomer had more loyalty and integrity and maturity.

Do you recall a time when you had to let a staff member go? How did you deal with it? Do you ever regret letting a staff member go?

Please share your experiences, comments and suggestions below. How as a leader have you handled letting an employee go? Do you feel and think it was the right move? or Did you act in haste? Any regrets?










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