How to Let Someone Go: Cutting Ties with Employees in a Painless, Professional, Polite Way

Throughout the month of March, we’re focusing our attention on all-things Human Resources-related—and that unfortunately covers letting team members go. While letting an employee go is never an easy task, it’s one that nearly every small business owner or wedding pro will have to go through at one point in their career. Today, then, we’re talking our top tips for letting your employees go as painlessly as possible.

Accepting That it’s Time

Letting someone go starts with admitting to yourself that it’s time to do so. As small business owners, we often do all of our hiring ourselves—which can make letting people go even trickier, as it starts with admitting that a choice we once made is no longer working out for the greater good of the team. That’s absolutely fine. (Say it again with me: That. Is. Absolutely. Fine.) You are allowed to make hiring mistakes. You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to come to the conclusion that the Mother Teresa you once hired has turned out to be more like a mother of a nightmare. People change, our company’s needs change, and our individual lives change—this is all to be expected. Knowing when it’s time to let someone go will vary for every individual business owner, but a good litmus test is this: Is the person in question easing your workload or creating more work for you? If your answer is the latter, it’s time to cut ties.

How to Let Someone Go

This is different for every business owner, but let’s start with the basics: you should always let someone go in person. Never, ever cop-out and deliver the news over the phone or—worse!—via email. Maybe you’re in the middle of a heated email exchange with the person or duking it out over the phone, and you think: “Now would be a perfect time to just do it.” Don’t. We repeat: don’t. Your goal in letting someone go is to do so in a way that’s proper and that speaks to your company values. If your decision is to let someone go, great…but  be sure to truly own that decision by delivering the news in person, no matter how uncomfortable or anxious it may make you. Letting someone go in a face-to-face setting is uncomfortable—but discomfort is par for the course as a business owner. It’s our willingness to face this discomfort head on that earns us respect and admiration as a leader.

What to Say

Again, this is something you’ll have to decide on your own, but the nature of what you say should always be four things: professional, polite, productive, and prepared. Professional means you’re doing it in-person, in a professional setting. Polite means you’re not delivering any personal digs or touching on things the person doesn’t absolutely need to hear simply because you want to get it off your chest (i.e. they don’t need to know you can’t stand the way they chew their gum). Regardless of what’s causing the relationship to end and how nasty or impolite the employee may have been, your job is to be the bigger person and swallow, rather than spew, any hurtful gems that you’re dying to get out. (If it makes you feel better, you can scream them aloud in your car to yourself on your drive home. Because, seriously, who chews gum like that?!) Productive means you should offer them information they can use. Think about the three main things they did that led to their firing and prepare bits of constructive criticism around those that you can deliver to them. Prepared means you’ve planned some talking points and are sticking to those. Don’t ever “wing it” when it comes to letting someone go. Your goal is to have complete control of the conversation the entire time—things can quickly go off the rails if you don’t have some major bullet-points prepared.

What to Give Them

Let’s face it: an “I’m Letting You Go” package isn’t quite as lovely as a “Welcome to the Team!” package, but it is a necessary step in firing someone. You’ll need to have their final paycheck ready, along with any severance package/agreement if it makes sense. A final written review is always a nice touch, as it shows you care enough to offer them productive advice that they’ll (hopefully) learn from for their next gig. And, lastly, there are circumstances where a recommendation letter might be nice to include as well. Maybe you had to let an employee go because a recent family illness or other unforeseen circumstance impacted her ability to perform her duties full-time for you—but you still feel she’d be a great asset for a team looking for a part-time or remote employee, for example. In circumstances like that, including a written recommendation is always a classy move.

What to Collect

In order to swiftly off-board someone, you’ll need to collect any company materials you provided them. Be sure to collect these at the time of their firing. This includes things like: a parking pass, badges/IDs, an office key, a company credit card—the list goes on. You’ll also want to be sure you remove their access to all accounts (any company email accounts, office communication channels or chat boards, social media accounts they made have admin access to, etc.). To help streamline this process, we recommend making a checklist that you consult anytime you have to let an employee go, just to ensure you’re not forgetting something (you can house this list in the notes section of your Aisle Planner business project). There’s nothing worse than realizing a distraught past employee is still an admin on your Facebook page or walked away with that $1,500 company laptop and now is impossible to get ahold of.

Overall, letting someone go is never, ever fun—regardless of the circumstances that led to their firing. But, when we do so in a productive, polite, and professional way, we’re able to keep our head held high in the face of a tough decision—and that, Aisle Planners, is what being a badass business owner is all about!

About the Author

Gillian Griffith
Gillian Griffith

Gillian knows there’s nothing as deadly as a woman with good grammar, great nails and a strong backhand (think: tennis). She is based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, where she spends the sunny days with her family, her Louisiana Catahoula pup and, her ultimate love, a 1939 typewriter.

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