How To Fire An Employee

David Burkus
5 min readMay 9, 2022

Firing an employee is the worst part of any leader’s job. Done poorly, it can damage not only your team but the reputation of your entire organization. That’s especially true if you’re laying off hundreds of employees via Zoom -but who would ever do that?!

But done well, it can actually make your team stronger.

Research suggests that the boost in productivity from releasing a poor employee is larger than the boost gained from hiring a star player. And sometimes it’s not even about releasing a poor performer, there’s economic or industry specific reasons for having to lay off valued teammates-and it must be done gracefully.

In this article, we’ll outline how to fire an employee in a way that is specific, but humane.

Do It In Person

The first tactic for firing an employee gracefully is to do it in person. Bad news is best delivered in person. Humans are social creatures. And not only will they be better able to process the news, but you will be able to observe facial expressions and vocal tones and adjust your message accordingly. If in person is not an option, then a video call is a possible replacement. But make sure both of you have a private place for that call and that it is a one-on-one call. Do not fire multiple people via Zoom (or really ever via any medium).

Bring A Third Party

The second tactic for firing an employee gracefully is to bring a third party. In a larger organization, this should be someone from human resources or legal. But in a smaller group another manager is suitable. This is an emotional conversation, and a third party can help keep that conversation on track and make sure no important details are left out. If it is someone from Human Resources, this third party can often provide additional information you might not know. In addition, a third party observer helps afterwards to verify that the conversation stayed professional-or if it didn’t, they can verify that you stayed professional during the conversation.

Lay It All Out

The third tactic for firing an employee gracefully is to lay it all out. You’ll want all the details figured out ahead of time-like what is their last day, what is their severance (if any), and what…

David Burkus

Author of LEADING FROM ANYWHERE | Keynote Speaker | Organizational Psychologist | Thinkers50 Ranked Thought Leader |