How to Fire Someone, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader joins the conversation started by Bourree:

Firing people is something I’ve done a number of times. I agree with your readers that the goal is to be human and try to ease the situation. The one who gets to be emotional is the person being let go, not me. Unless there was some huge violation calling for immediate response, you should not fire while angry. Be empathetic and reasonable. And be firm: If you are not firm, people can think there is wiggle room and the conversation never ends. [Like the scene above — C.B.]

In terms of being honest (another recommendation from your readers), that can cut both ways. I once had to demote someone.

He said to me, I’ve always gotten good reviews until now. How is this happening? I decided to be honest, and I said to him, “Previously you were always in a technical position; now you are a manager. You’re not cut out for it. Do YOU think you are a good manager?” He admitted that he found it hard to read people. Because I had been honest about what he did badly, I was also able to be honest about what he did well—taking direction, solving technical problems—and he believed me because I had been frank at the outset.

We ended up having a really good conversation, and he moved into a new position that paid less but was better suited to his abilities. He seemed relieved. The glow of this conversation, and my feeling that I had wonderful emotional intelligence, lasted about two weeks. At which point, I was faced with another decision— which of two internal candidates to promote. The one who was not promoted asked me why. Filled with my new wisdom, I told him why.

Big mistake! He was furious. Completely disagreed with my reasoning. Was mad not only with me, but with the person who had been promoted. Before our discussion, he had seemed more at peace with the decision. So now I’m more gingerly with how much to tell people during an unpleasant conversation, and at any sign I’m treading in a sensitive area, I pull back.

So when’s the best day of the week to fire someone? Definitely not today:

DON'T fire someone on a Friday. Waiting until the dregs of the workweek might seem less awkward, but doing so actually gives the fired person Saturday and Sunday to feel miserable and simmer in a 48-hour holding pattern until most offices and network contacts start their next workweek. “If you fire them on Friday at 4 p.m., they’re going to stew, and get angry and they don’t have resources available to them,” says Laurie Ruettimann, a human resources consultant. “That's HR 101.”

DO the deed on a Tuesday. Or a Monday even – the sooner in the week the better, because then the terminated employee has a better launchpad for planning his or her next steps. “It gives them the opportunity to tap into their network and begin a job hunt, or even to decide if they want to take some legal action. Firing someone as early in the week as possible so that they can get in touch with resources that are available since they're working,” Ruettimann says.