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Terminating Employees Can’t Be Done Pleasantly, But Can Be Done Properly

With proper planning, preparation, and by following protocol, firing an employee can be done with tact and respect.

Terminating Employees Can’t Be Done Pleasantly, But Can Be Done Properly
Jeff Wuenker says tips like cutting to the chase, preparing a message to be delivered, and keeping the meeting to 10 minutes max are all good strategies to help keep termination meetings as civil and as painless as possible.

Jeff Wuenker · September 19, 2018

Letting an employee go is a difficult experience for everyone involved, regardless of the circumstances. Even though there is no pleasant way to do it, there is a right way. Handling it poorly can have unpleasant and possibly even legal ramifications.

Handled properly, there is a much better chance that the dignity and respect of the employee can be maintained, complications avoided, and the company’s reputation remains intact as well.

This situation should not be handled lightly for the sake of both employer and employee. It needs proper planning, preparation, and protocol:


  • Plan for who will be in the meeting, and who will deliver the message. Best for the message to come from a single source.
  • Make arrangements for the meeting to be held in a private place, out of earshot and eyesight of other employees.
  • There really is no good day or time, but earlier in the week is preferable to a Friday…best not to give them the weekend to brood, fall into malaise or try and build a rebuttal. If it happens during the week they will likely move on more quickly. 
  • Plan for the notification meeting to last no longer than 10 minutes.
  • Have an exit strategy. Know what the employee is to do immediately upon conclusion of the meeting.  


  • Have final paycheck and benefits information prepared and on hand to provide in the meeting.
  • If necessary for some situations, arrange for security to be present to escort employee out of the building.
  • Prepare the message to be delivered.


  • Cut to the chase. Do not try and ease into it with idle conversation.
  • Use clear, direct, and matter-of-fact messaging. Tell them the decision that has been made, and provide the reason. Make it clear this decision has been made (past tense). No one is still thinking about it and nothing will change it.
  • Stick to the script. Do not get into a bargaining or negotiating discussion. Continue to repeat the same message if necessary.
  • Be considerate and respectful, but do not be overly empathetic. Do not say things like “I know how you feel” or “This is not personal," because you don’t know how they feel and this is very personal to them.
  • Provide relevant information on benefits and severance. Too much detail is unnecessary because they probably won’t hear much of it anyway. But do give them the pertinent information.
  • End the meeting. Do not get pulled into further discussion. Make clear the meeting is over and cover the immediate next steps.
  • Document the outcome, and anything that was said that may be relevant, meaningful, or has legal implications.

Nobody likes to do this…it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, but also unavoidable. However, with the right planning, preparation, and protocol, the unpleasantness can be minimized, and mutual dignity, appreciation, and respect maintained. 

Jeff Wuenker is a strategic career advisor for The Bauke Group, a "career happiness" firm focused on providing coaching, training, and a wide variety of resources and info to employers and employees. 

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