8 Tips for Terminating an Employee Gracefully

By September 14, 2017 December 12th, 2022 Building a Better Team

Last Updated on December 12, 2022 by Dave Schoenbeck

Terminating an employee is far from fun. For many business leaders, it never gets easier – whether it be completing a round of company layoffs or terminating a problematic employee. 
Terminating an Employee Gracefully

 Here are 8 tips to help when terminating an employee.

1. Be prepared beforehand.

Organize your thoughts: Have a plan and create a list of answers to possible questions. Pick a quiet, private place and ask to speak with your employee late in the day or toward the end of their shift so they can leave without embarrassment. It’s best to arrange for a witness to join you during your meeting, preferably another person in upper management. Never invite an employee with equal seniority to the worker being terminated.

2. Be aware of your attitude about the termination.

Terminating an employee is uncomfortable for everyone involved. That being said, remember what’s most important: In the end, you are doing this person a favor by helping them grow, change, and move on to a new role where they have a chance to be successful.

Over the years, I have had people reconnect with me and tell me they knew they were failing and had anxiety about their performance. Most agreed it was best they were freed to pursue a different career.

3. Get to the point quickly.

Don’t draw out the conversation. State the main reasons for the termination but don’t dwell on a long list of failures. Your goal is to complete the termination while preserving their self-respect.

Keep the meeting short and focused. Though you should be prepared to answer questions, also give them a written list of answers to FAQs, such as whether they’re eligible for unemployment benefits, what tasks must be completed before they leave for the day, and so on. Their emotions may overwhelm their focus on questions and next steps.

4. Take ownership for the decision.

Even if there are multiple people involved in the decision, they are not the ones currently terminating an employee; you are. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning that the team is in agreement, but you must be firm in asserting that it’s very much your decision to let them go.

5. Don’t get into a debate.

Be resolute and professional. Control your emotions and try to be somewhat passive. You can’t be angry or sad. Don’t make apologies for the decision, listen to or entertain excuses, or make accommodations. The decision was made and it’s now time for everyone to move forward.

6. Don’t make promises.

Again, control your emotions. Though it can be tempting in some situations – maybe you know the worker is struggling to care for a family member or has run into personal health issues – it’s important to let them know you can’t help in their new employment search.

If you are conducting company layoffs due to downsizing and the decision is not based on poor performance or other employee issues, it’s okay to offer letters of recommendation if asked. If you are terminating a problematic employee, don’t agree to write such letters.

7. Give yourself time to debrief your preparation and performance.

Realistically this won’t be the last time you will have to let someone go. In fact, chances are you’ll be doing it many times in the future. Make notes for yourself and evaluate what you could improve on for next time.

8. Plan for future success.

Commit to yourself that you will do a better job screening candidates and managing employee performance moving forward. While it’s likely you’ll be terminating an employee again someday in the future, pre-employment assessments for all finalists will help protect you from making terminations an unfortunate habit.

Though it may never feel comfortable terminating an employee, you will have a smoother process with a concrete plan in place. By following the tips above, you’ll create a repeatable system for the overall health of your business.

Leading a team and managing their performance and outcomes requires expanding your skills. If you would like help to develop your leadership skills, fill out my contact form for a complimentary one-hour video coaching session with me.

Dave Schoenbeck
Follow Dave