How To Fire Employees

When you worry about how you’re going to fire people, what you really should be worried about is why you need to fire people in the first place.

[parallax-scroll id=”2528″]


There, that was an interesting post. Short, but interesting.

Maybe I should explain that most insightful conclusion a little bit.

Again.., a dear (anonymous) friend told me a great story about what happened at work. This time around it was a bit darker than usual. This time there were victims. This time people got sacked, fired, let go, made redundant. Come in to work in the morning, leave jobless before lunch.

And nobody saw it coming, no one knows why, and no one knows if these fired colleagues are the only ones.., or if there are more to follow.

Now, I can imagine that under extreme, and usually misguided reasons a company feels forced to lessen the number of employees, it’s money in the bank.

In that case the title could actually be “How to fire employees humanely”.

Necessary Evil

OK, let’s assume a company has no choice. It simply can’t hold on to the workforce as it stands, and it needs to let a number of people go.

(But, let’s face it, if you reach this point as a company you have made some pretty stupid decisions. And (top)management’s activities, reasoning and processes deserve a long hard and critical look.)

Having an employee come to the office in the morning only to tell them they’re being let go that same day, without any warning is simply cruel. And I do not mean that as a metaphor, I really do mean cruel. In my friend’s case (who didn’t get fired) one of her colleagues was part of that company for 18(!) years.

cruel |krʊəl|
adjective (crueller, cruellest; US crueler, cruelest)
wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it: people who are cruel to animals | a cruel remark.

Next to the fact that these people never saw it coming, it leaves the rest of the workforce uncomfortable, restless and uncertain about their future. This too is cruel. And yes, the next day another was “let go”. Adding fuel to the fire.

There has to be a better way.


That’s a dirty word, after all, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. The fact that the company is putting you out to pasture after 20 years of service is, of course, nothing personal (note the sarcasm here, in case it wasn’t clear).

However, I can imagine that even companies with the best intend to change for the better may have to deal with some old fart’s legacy. Sometimes change hurts, even when it’s for the better.

Even then, you can have compassion, be courteous. You could even involve employees in the process, or at the very least keep them informed of the changes ahead. Let them know how many FTE’s need to be cut, then at least they know when it ends.

And maybe, just maybe, some employee might even have a good suggestion to help with the crisis. Or somebody might even volunteer to be let go, saving some other poor soul the grievance of being fired on the spot.

I do understand the rip-the-band-aid-off-in-one-go tactic. I really do. The process still hurts, but for a shorter period, although probably a lot more. And, those responsible avoid any situation where they have to explain themselves. Why would you take responsibility for something when you can avoid it.

Dying Industries

When I was discussing this with my dear friend and podcast co-host John Wenger, he brought up British Coal as an example of a business in a very tough industry. There are others to choose from of course, many are dead or dying, and many industries change all the time. The continuous development of technology happens quicker and quicker and we all need to keep up, or be left behind.

Anyway, John’s point was, what if you have no choice.

I’d dare say, you always have a choice. The sad thing is that most business related choices revolve around profit, and profit alone. And usually only for a few people who seek to make as much of it as possible in the shortest possible time.

They don’t care about long term consequences, whether they’d be sociological or ecological. most decisions they make won’t come back to them in their life-time, especially when they have enough ‘profit’ in the bank. Rendering them untouchable of the consequences.

This directly relates to people losing their jobs. It’s the direct consequence of bad and selfish choices of a few.

Wilful Ignorance

Politicians take the cake with this. And let me be frank, I loath politics. I think there’s no such thing as a “good” politician. Yes, you can argue all you want about those who truly believe in the positive change, are green(ish) and left(ish), and try and work the system from the inside.

In reply to that I say, how’s that working out for you?

[ted id=1380]

No, in our current “democratic” re-elective system the focus is always on compromise and (re)elections. Leading to promises made and promises broken. And the ones who really matter, or really want to change the system are snowed under and kept short, because.., well.., they are annoying. And thus, effectively, quite useless. Without the aid of the masses no real change can happen.

James Hansen’s TED Talk is evidence of this reasoning.

Climatologist Hansen has been trying to convince governments of the severity of climate change for over 25 years. He argued his point in front of the highest echelons of many western governments. And where has all this effort led us… no where. What has been done? Nothing.

Now, sea levels on the North-east coast of the US have risen nearly 4 inches in one year (between 2009 and 2010). This is permanent, not due to (extreme) weather.

And yes, there is a point…

We know things have made a turn for the worse. Those in power have known for decades things are getting from bad to worse. Irreversibly so.

Tough decisions had to be made to save our living environment. Most would’ve had severe economic consequences. This is the one reason why nothing has been done. Sure.., now we acknowledge the fact climate change is real, and we come up with all sort of long-term solutions, like reducing emissions over a 50 year period, or something useless like that.

Problem is, it’s too little too late.

We knew, but did nothing (hence The Age of Stupid). Sitting government officials cannot (or will not) be held responsible for things they did while in office. So they’re good to go. There is no need to worry, it won’t affect them and they never lost the power they worked so hard to obtain by making unpopular (economic) decisions.

‘We’ still aren’t committed to reducing CO2 to an acceptable level. But, our generation doesn’t really need to worry about that. It’ll be our children who’ll reap that harvest.
(which is probably not true, because the changes in our climate happen quicker and quicker, the chain reaction has become unpredictable. We know what will happen, we’re just not entirely sure when)


As mentioned in my previous post, companies go to great lengths to please their shareholders. IBM even created a program to optimise the return on investment (ROI) of its shareholders, with the inevitable lay-offs following suit. I think Bruce Kasanoff got it right;

Protect the machine, not the people.

As I wrote about in the Bloodhound post, the initial attitude of any business determines a lot of its eventual outcome. A business build with the sole purpose to generate as much profit as possible is doomed to fail. It’ll lose its customers, partners or market share, or it’ll be bought out by a bigger player (this too is a goal for many who build a company).


Where was I?

Oh right.., how to fire people.

I guess I’m still trying to make the point that you shouldn’t have to.

Be Smart

A smart company has its focus on the thin line where customers and the company meet. Some say those who actually have contact with the customer are the most valuable people in the company. Managers three layers removed from the customer become less important.

I agree.

Also, a company should keep an eye on everything, the market, economical and political situations, the environment, their customers, the attitude of their partners, their employees… All should be continuously considered.

Not only will you be able to (partly) predict the market, which is good for your products, but you’ll also be able to (partly) predict big changes in any of these areas. Giving you a heads-up. This might give you enough time to adjust any parameters to make sure you stay in the game.

Couple that with an engaged workforce and you just might have enough fluidity to move with the current, instead of stubbornly fight against it. Which, in the end, will result in the need to fire people.

Just Don’t

So, there you have it. When you worry about how you’ll fire people, what you really should be worried about is why you need to fire people in the first place.

Author: Rogier Noort

Digital Transformer | Thinker | Listener | Speaker | Podcaster | Writer | Blogger Twitter or LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.