Headway Capital

15 Things to Avoid When Letting Employees Go [Infographic]

Especially during our prolonged pandemic, and right before we begin the holiday season, firing someone is not fun. The impact on the person getting fired is both obvious and tragic. But the person letting employees go is also affected. As the boss or HR representative, you’ll likely feel sadness, guilt, and frustration along the way.

Those emotions, of course, are natural. However, solid business practices set a framework for minimizing the emotional toll – on both the person getting fired, and the person doing the firing.

Letting Employees Go with Empathy and Compassion

Headway Capital found 15 temptations faced by managers as the firing process begins. And to help you through each “we need to let you go” conversation, their new infographic includes 15 better approaches.

For example, you may have cooked up a long and convoluted reason for the firing. Instead, lead with the bad news: “I’ve called you in today because we need to let you go.” Then follow with brief, clear reasons. Throughout the process, be diplomatic without offering excuses you think might cushion the truth.

Protecting feelings, though, doesn’t mean we must become sympathetic. In fact, sympathy is a non-starter because it focuses on the emotions of the person delivering the news. As an empathetic boss, you and the employee are better served by actively listening to the employee. Your job as you listen: To figure out how they’re feeling – and to adjust your strategy as appropriate.

“Bosses must recognize the difference between empathy and compassion (which are useful in this context) and sympathy or sorrow (which can be counterproductive),” advises Joel Peterson, chair of JetBlue and Professor of Management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Finally, as emotions reach their peak, remember that termination isn’t, in the long-term, always a terrible thing. Studies have shown that (for some positions) nine out of ten terminated employees find a new job that’s equal to or better than the job they held previously. Of course, it’s not wise to mention this while firing an employee!

Being fired is never easy. And neither is doing the firing. Keeping these 15 tips in mind will help you prepare and execute your termination plan. Still, don’t worry if you make a mistake or two. Because in what is often an emotional conversation, everybody makes mistakes – even the person responsible for letting employees go.



letting employees go

Three Strategies to Help HR Manage Morale When Employees Leave

Breakups. Graduations. Funerals. Parting ways is always difficult; work is no exception. That’s why it’s important for HR to have the tools to keep morale up when employees leave; otherwise, negativity can spread around the office quickly. Here are a few tools HR can use to keep negativity at bay:


To keep culture thriving, you’ve got to be fair to everyone. Plan and follow a defined, legal process or employees will notice discrepancies and you’ll open the company up to criticism (and possibly lawsuits).

Including employees in planning helps them feel involved, valued and heard when a coworker leaves. Ask for their help with the job description you put together. Find out what the team wants to see in the person you bring in as a replacement. This will satisfy their need to talk about the change even though you can’t talk about why their coworker is leaving. You can also use this time to sincerely thank the team for their hard work and willingness to help out. (This could help keep other employees around: companies who use strategic recognition have 23 percent lower turnover rates).

By planning and following a policy for terminations and keeping teams involved in your strategy for finding a new coworker, you’ll be more likely to foster positive feelings and keep morale steady.


When it comes to culture, you get what you give. If you want employees to be positive when a coworker leaves, you need to lead by example. Encourage employees to keep their friendships alive. (Though you’ll need to set a few boundaries to protect the company. More on that below.) Be happy for employees who find a great opportunity. It doesn’t hurt to congratulate them on their new unique opportunity. Also, be sure to make positive adjustments to culture based on what employees say in exit interviews. This will show other employees that you care about what they have to say and are actively trying to improve company culture.

Establishing a positive company culture is also a great way to keep employees from leaving in the first place. Job turnover in companies with great company cultures is only 13.9 percent, compared to 48.4 percent turnover at companies with poor company culture. And even when employees do leave voluntarily, it will more than likely be on positive terms if they were engaged in a happy culture–which means they won’t run around the office telling coworkers the (often exaggerated) reasons they decided to leave.

Your employees need to feel positive about their work environment when and even before change happens. Effectively managing issues that come to the surface during a termination is important in cultivating a thriving culture, and a thriving culture will in-turn keep morale afloat.


Look within your HR department for termination training first. It may feel natural to want to disclose information to an employee with concerns in order to make them feel like you’re on the same team, but you can’t. Train your team to reframe the conversation to focus on moving forward together while addressing concerns in a constructive way.

Train managers and employees to handle termination situations too. Just like your HR team, they should understand confidentiality. Common sense will kick in if a former coworker asks for the company card number, but employees may not see any mal-intent in checking some information for their old coworker or spilling a few client names. Help employees understand that friendships with former coworkers are fine, but to be careful not to violate any confidentiality agreement. Also teach them the proper way to bring up and fix any concerns that surface during terminations.

Training everyone in the company to handle terminations will keep the company safe and help employees feel confident and positive through the changes.

Like any change, terminations can be hard. Negativity can spring from uncertainty if there aren’t tools in place to combat it. Train everyone in your company to keep things confidential, move forward and address any concerns. Make it part of your culture to guide employee behavior, and plan your policies to be fair to everyone. Doing so will make difficult termination transitions a little easier.


Being a Good Boss Means Not Being Afraid to Fire; #TChat Recap

Everybody likes to be liked. Most colleagues and bosses that I’ve worked with do. To a fault, which makes it very difficult when dealing with those who need dealing with.

Those who need to be written up and eventually fired.

For those who don’t care about being liked, in particular the bosses, most still don’t deal with confrontation very well and hence don’t fire. Well. Or at all. This of course is all anecdotal, but I bet most of you agree, and we’ve all seen the surveys and the research that validates.

The overall consensus last night during #TChat was that this “fear of firing” affects business performance detrimentally, because not only do poor performers topple the bottom line by falling flat on it, they also affect their co-workers and others in the business, which then creates a domino effect of further poor performance. And if they’re customer facing in any way, then there’s another affront to growth and revenue.

We didn’t really define “poor performance,” but that can include the inability to complete assigned tasks to being a toxic employee. Because which is more important when considering termination: cultural fit or performance? I say performance and lack thereof. I’ve hired great cultural fits who don’t perform (or can’t in that position).

There was a contingent last night who thought if the cultural fit was there, performance issues can be resolved. Maybe. Maybe not. Too many variables and if you cram a lazy square peg into a virtual round hole and then ask them to handle customer services calls from home…

Ultimately it’s the immediate supervisor’s responsibility to initiate the termination process, and why they must document performance and have 1-on-1’s beyond the annual review. I wrote a post last month titled Did you get that last part? Don’t be afraid to fire. Period. where I recommended the following:

  • Create formal and informal employee learning networks for mentoring and career development.
  • Empower, develop and train the average employees so as to develop a more productive workforce.
  • Allow employees in training to dial up and down their roles and responsibilities.
  • Recruit and hire those with high potential — FT, PT, contractor, etc.
  • Reward the high potentials and high producers.
  • Don’t be afraid to fire those who can’t be empowered, developed or trained.

By no means am I an expert in this area, but based on my experience recruiting, training and developing employees, these are activities that worked for me and my companies. Being a good boss means not being afraid to fire. Period.

Don’t forget to include human resources in the termination process, even the CEO and other leaders when applicable. Unfortunately this is because we live in such a litigious society and HR still need to help enforce compliance and proper procedure.

We had the pleasure of having Kevin Wheeler stop by #TChat last night. He’s a globally-known speaker, author, columnist, and consultant in human capital acquisition and development, and we were thrilled to have him join in our stream. When we got on the subject of hiring better performance fit to prevent eventual firing, better interviewing came up quite a bit. But Kevin reminded us that according to recruitment research, interviewing wasn’t much better than chance in predicting success in a position. Even those who are good at behavioral interviewing, which isn’t many, it’s still not much better than chance. References, however, can help evaluate cultural fit, and I agree with Kevin there. At least beyond the obligatory three five-minute reference check calls.

Thank you again Kevin!

You can see our TweetReach here and these were last night’s questions:
  • Q1: What impact does “fear of firing” have on leaders?  Biz performance?
  • Q2: What red flags should managers look for when recruiting now to avoid firing later?
  • Q3: Who should have ultimate responsibility for firing decisions?  HR, CEO, Supervisor?
  • Q4: Which is more important when considering termination: culture fit or performance?
  • Q5: What can job seekers do to explain being fired when looking for their next role?
  • Q6: Some say being fired can be the best thing that ever happens to someone.  T/F?

Thank you again everyone for joining us last night!  Next week’s topic will be “ “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Workplace Culture Factors to Consider Before Leaving Your Job”