I Had to Fire an Employee Today

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I just finished telling an employee that we were terminating his employment due to poor performance. It never gets easier. But every time I’m done, I am truly relieved.

Leading up to this day, I spent weeks, even months contemplating what to do. I’d known for a long time that he wasn’t a good fit for our organization. No matter how many times I encouraged him, or tried to inspire him, he always resorted to underperforming – the underperformance that left slack to be carried by the rest of the team. I knew I was wasting energy compensating for him; I knew my team was too. But there was this unwieldy fear in me that transcended my reason. No matter how clearly I knew I needed to fire him, I couldn’t get over feeling like I was a heartless, cold, unforgiving, bad person for knowing that. I carried the burden as if it was my fault that he wasn’t performing, even though I knew I had given him every opportunity I could, and then some.

I continued on this path of self-preservation until yesterday, when I came to a realization. I had been so focused on myself, on worrying about how I would be perceived if I fired this employee. I limited my field of vision to see only him, who really was not contributing to the success of the team, or the organization as a whole.  I had failed to consider the employees that were performing well. I had spent months watching the rest of the team sacrificing their time, effort and talents to make up for him – and I did nothing. I let him continue to fail at his responsibilities and leave work to burden the rest of the team. My paralysis sent one message, loud and clear to my team: I cared about preserving my image as a ‘good person’, more than I valued them and their contribution to my company. I resolved then and there to get over myself, and step up for my company and the people that worked hard to make it work.

My new-found resolution didn’t make that moment of saying, “we have to let you go”, easy. But it made it imperative. I knew that I must do it; so I did.

As I sit at my desk in the moments following our confrontation, I feel relieved.  I feel as if a tangible weight has been removed from my shoulders.

The refreshment to our work environment is tangible.  Instead of creating more stress like I worried, the team also seems relieved. It feels like their respect for me has grown because I handled this difficult situation.

Terminating an employee is probably the hardest task I have had to do as an owner. It doesn’t get easier with time. It’s not something that practice can perfect. But with my team, and ultimately my company at stake, I know that each time the situation arises, I will step up to tackle it.


Read other experiences like this one in the e-book, Moments From The Journey: Diary of a Business Owner.