Terminations are stressful for everyone. While there are challenges unique to firing specialists in any industry, there are a few things that make it hard to fire someone regardless of industry.

Here are some common challenges around terminations and strategies for addressing them.


Documentation is one of the most common issues with terminations. In some cases, we do not have enough documentation. For example, trying to fire someone for performance when the only thing in their personal file is a positive review from two years ago and a thank-you letter from a happy customer can be challenging.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as too much documentation. In some cases, we may have an employee who has been disciplined over and over, gotten better in one area, then regressed in another.

We might have inconsistent messaging within the file, with positive performance reviews from one manager and negative writeups from another. Or, the employee could have created a lot of documentation about all the issues s/he sees with the organization or their treatment within the department without corresponding paperwork on behalf of the organization.

In both cases, a good thing to do (in addition to working with legal counsel) is to inventory the personnel files to understand what might be inconsistent, missing or unnecessary. Then, take reasonable and consistent steps to address it for everyone, not just the employee we want to terminate.

The Gap

Another challenge is staffing. Whether we have an employee with a specialized skillset or are challenged by an employee-friendly job market, the pending vacancy created by a termination can be enough to dissuade many managers from letting an employee go.

However, not terminating the employee can undermine culture, the productivity of the team, and make it more difficult to fire the person down the road. In this situation, it is important to directly compare the challenges associated with the vacancy with the wider and longer-term implications of not taking action.

Considering exactly what gap the termination creates and the cost of addressing it in the short and long term can be helpful data to contrast with the productivity costs and potential risk of keeping the employee.


Finally, an underlying challenge in both of the above issues is time. Waiting too long to terminate an employee can lead to increased disruption on the team; challenges to accountability; and increased opportunity for challenges to the termination.

Thus, while it is critical to think about the difficult nature of a termination and the response of the terminated employee, it is also important to consider what makes a termination go smoothly.

Consistent practices around documentation, accountability and communication can go a long way in supporting the argument for termination. In addition, understanding the larger impact of not terminating an employee, whether because of the gap it creates or the impact on productivity can help support arguments for when and how to deliver the message.