The Fine Art of Firing an Employee

By Ken Vincent, Featured Contributor

Okay, “art” may be overstating it a bit.  Perhaps “technique” would be a better term.

Now I’ve fired several hundred people in my career, the first one when I was a 15 year old bell captain.

th-12Not a fact that I am particularly proud of, but it is still a fact.  Some of those people I inherited, some were people that I couldn’t find a way to save, and some were just bad hiring choices on my part.  In any case I learned a lot from all those termination papers.

First lesson:  It doesn’t get any easier with practice.  No manager likes to fire an employee.  At best it is unpleasant and causes a lot of sleepless nights.  It  is one of the worst parts of being a manager and I didn’t like pawning it off on one of my subordinates.

Second lesson:  Every manager should loose his or her job once.  It gives a manager a sense of humility to balance that often superior attitude that managers can develop.  It also gives the manager a sense of the economic and emotional impact it causes to the person being terminated.  It keeps the manager “human”.

Third lesson:  Sometimes a termination is unavoidable.  But if you consistently fail to do it, the ax will likely land on your neck at some future point.

Fourth lesson:  There is a right time, a right place, and a right way to fire someone.

  • The right time:  You have given the employee a written warning and discussed it with him.  You have given him a second written warning with perhaps three days off with no pay.  The third offense is the right time.
  • The right place:  In private of course.  Do it in the office, preferably with a witness from HR or security, or the employee’s department head.  Never do it in a pubic forum like a staff meeting.
  • The right way:  Stay calm and stay factual.  Losing your temper will likely cause you to say or do things that may very well come back to haunt you.  Of course you must explain why you are taking that action, but try to soften the blow.  You are not trying to destroy the person, just get them off your payroll.  Along with enumerating the employee’s errors you should also try to point out one or more things that he does well.  Let the employee leave with some shred of self worth and hope for the future.  A bit of compassion on your part costs nothing.  (I have actually had former employees come back  years later to thank me for having fired them and putting their lives on a better track.)

Of course those ideals are not always possible.  There may be times when you simply do not have the option to do a termination the way you want.

One final lesson that I learned is that more often than not, when I had to fire someone it was partly my fault.  I hadn’t found a way to make that employee a productive part of the team.  Or, sometimes I had just made a bad decision in hiring him in the first place.  Accepting your role in the problem may not help you sleep better, but it does prompt you to try harder.

So, what have you learned from firing people?


Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent
KEN is a 46 year veteran hotelier and entrepreneur. Formerly owned two hotels, an advertising agency, a wholesale tour company, a POS company, a leasing company, and a hotel management company. The hotels included chain owned, franchises, and independents. They ranged in type from small luxury inns, to limited service properties, to large convention hotels and resorts. After retiring he authored a book, “So Many Hotels, So Little Time” in which he relates what life is like behind the scenes for a hotel manager. Ken operated more that 100 hotels and resorts in the US and Caribbean and formed eight companies. He is a firm believer that senior management should share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of management.

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