Terminating an employee, even when it will undoubtedly make the workplace a better place, is still one of the most difficult things for any manager to do.

The fear of being fired, the guilt of taking away someone’s livelihood (and sometimes even their identity), and the difficulty of delivering the message all combine to make the days leading up to, including and following a termination stressful.

As bad as that sounds, though, firing does not have to be negative. Here are some tips to minimize the negativity.


Many of the leaders I have worked with cite their own fear of being fired as a big stressor in the process, especially when they think the employee they are about to fire will be surprised. This fear, however, can be a leader’s greatest asset during a termination discussion.

By acknowledging the emotions, stress and implications of a termination, managers can help minimize them for terminated employee. Regardless of whether the soon-to-be ex-employee was toxic or just incompetent, making an effort to allow the employee to leave with dignity not only helps minimize the negativity on both sides of the table, it is one of the key factors that determines what an employee says about (or does to) the employer after they are let go.

Practice + brevity + support

HR and legal support are critical, essential assets for the success of any termination. One excellent way to leverage those resources is in the actual termination conversation. By working with HR and/ or legal to draft a script for the conversation, managers have the ability to safely craft their words to strike the right balance between what they wish they could say and what they are advised to say.

Similarly, by bringing an outside expert into the conversation, the manager can keep her comments brief, passing the remainder of the discussion over to HR or legal to review paperwork. This removes the idea that the termination is a conversation. It also allows space should the ex-employee want to vent (whether in a formal exit interview or not) to a somewhat neutral third party whose goal is to help them face the difficult situation in front of them.


Finally, whether it is the one clearly positive contribution the otherwise non-productive employee made or simply acknowledging the fact that both sides knew it was not working out, having one fact to reiterate during the termination meeting can be helpful.

Specifically, it gives the employer something to repeat and on which to focus instead of trying to avoid awkward questions they cannot answer. It also gives the employee a thought on which to focus when the rest of their thoughts are racing in different directions.

The bottom line is that terminating employees is difficult but it does not have to be negative. Managers who can find compassion for the exiting employee facilitate a more dignified process.

Those who use the resources available to them can reduce stress on both sides of the table. And leaders with a practiced script that includes a repeatable fact are better placed to help the employee move through the meeting and termination process.