Unless you’re a sociopath who relishes in the pain of others, firing an employee is never a fun or easy task. Especially at a time when so many Americans are struggling financially and in their other areas of life as well, with nearly 20 percent of adults living in the United States living with a mental illness—the last thing we want is to add to their burden.

But we also cannot deny that letting go of employees is part and parcel of being a business owner or entrepreneur. It’s not something we cannot avoid completely.

One of the marks of being an excellent entrepreneur is the ability to let go of employees with as much grace and kindness. Here are some essential tips and pointers for knowing when to let go of an employee, and how to do it graciously and seamlessly.


When to let go

But before we need to know how to let go of employees, we need to know when to do it. Here are some signs it’s time to let go of an employee:

  • Your company is in financial trouble and you are already looking into enlisting the help of a bankruptcy or foreclosure defense lawyer to help keep your affairs in order. It’s a sign you need to let go of some employees if that’s one of the biggest ways your business can keep its head above water.
  • The employee’s presence is more of a liability than an asset. If your other employees are negatively impacted by a specific employee’s inefficiency or bad behavior, and it’s affecting your bottom line, that may be a sign to let them go, especially if you have already tried so many things to help them improve or if you have already given them countless chances to get better.
  • You don’t see the employee having a future in the company, and their presence is not necessary for the present. You might be holding them back from finding a job where they are needed, and they can truly grow and thrive if you keep them around.

How to let go

Once you’ve identified the employee that needs to be let go, here are some essential pointers you need to know to fire them in a way that keeps their dignity intact:

Keep your legal ducks in order

Before letting go of a team member, check their contract not just once, but twice or three times. You want to ensure that your firing is above board and that you are not violating any of their rights. Ensuring that you are acting legally is key. Whenever you’re firing someone, you want to ensure that you are in absolute compliance with state and federal labor laws.

Remember you cannot fire employees based on their personality, race, gender, or age; for taking a medical or pregnancy leave, and other reasons that may be discriminatory towards their person. Consider consulting with a lawyer if you’re not sure that the firing is legal.

Do it face-to-face

Even if the employee has not been in the office or the workplace for a while, you still owe it to them to give them an in-person heads up. There is nothing more humiliating or professionally traumatizing than hearing from somebody else that you have lost your job. Your employee deserves better than that.

Kiss, kick, kiss

The “kiss, kick, kiss” method is a way of communicating points of improvement without tearing down the other person. The whole idea is to sandwich the valid criticism in between the things they’re doing right, like the following:

  1. “You’re very personable and friendly, and having you around keeps everyone’s moods up.”
  2. “But we notice that you are always late, to the point that it’s affecting your productivity and output, and it disrupts the workflow in the office. We have already given you so many chances to improve in this area, but it seems like it’s not a good fit no matter how hard we try.”
  3. “I still believe in your talent and capability, and I know you will thrive in the next phase of your professional life. I would be glad to give you a referral.”

It’s not about cushioning the blow or softening a hard truth, but about reminding the employee that they still have good points without breaking their person.

At the end of the day, our employees deserve dignity and respect, no matter the mistakes they’ve committed at work. Do it as kindly as possible, especially since the world is small, and you never know if you might have to interact with them again in the future.

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