When Firing An Employee Benefits Them As Much As You

“It isn’t the people you fire who make your life miserable; it’s the people you don’t.”

That’s what speaker and author Harvey Mackay says. I think he’s right.

And yet “firing” someone sounds so mean and nasty. It may appear “cruel,” but firing someone may be the best thing you’ll ever do for your organization and the kindest thing you could do for the person involved. As I see it, there are at least two reasons why someone should be fired.


Let’s say, for example, that one of your employees is paid $20 an hour to do a particular job. But what if that employee does “just enough to get by?” What if he only gives back $10 worth of effort and productivity per hour?

In my book, that person is stealing. He’s stealing from your organization, and he’s hurting your bottom line. He’s not providing enough value to be kept on the company rolls.

I saw a sign that summarized it quite well. It read, “One reason a dollar won’t do as much as it once did is because people won’t do as much for a dollar as they once did.” I think there’s some truth in that.

SECOND,a person should be fired if HE/SHE DOES NOT FIT.

For whatever reason, some employees accept jobs or get put into jobs that do not fit their skills, styles, or personalities. And no matter how hard they try, or how much training they receive, nothing seems to work. Those employees never reach a level of true peak performance.

I’m sure you’ve seen it happen with your own kids. You can raise them the same way, apply the same standards and have the same expectations, but get very different results. One kid excels while the other struggles. As one person told me in one of my seminars, “I’ve got two daughters. One is going to be a lawyer. The other one is going to need one.”

Author Tim Connor says, “Don’t force a fit if the person just isn’t right.” Find some other way to work with the person, or find some other place to put the person. And in a work setting, that may mean, on occasion, removing that person from your organization.

Sometimes it is better for everyone if certain under-performing people were let go. It’s better for your best performers because they know you believe in excellence. It’s better for your average performers because they know you won’t ignore incompetence. And it’s even better for the “fired” individuals — because they have a chance to work somewhere else, with a better fit, that will make them a great deal happier and more productive.

I know some of you are squirming in your chairs as I write about “firing” and “accountability,” After all, I write and speak about “happy,” “positive,” and “motivational” topics most of the time. But done right, “firing” can be a very good as well as necessary thing to do — as long as it’s done for the two reasons I’ve given above. Firing someone for “political” reasons is a whole other game — which is often quite nasty and unfair.

When firing is done right, it just feels right. And when it’s done right, you don’t find yourself thinking two weeks later, “I wish we had him/her back.” No! Almost always you wish you would have fired him/her sooner.

Action:  Look at the bottom 5% of your work force. Look at how long they have been “under-performing.” Look at what you’ve done to help them improve. Look at the training you’ve given.

If you’re convinced you’ve done everything you can to turn them around, then it’s time to think about firing those under-performing people.