12 Most Humane Incentives to Fire Your Employees

12 Most Humane Incentives to Fire Your Employees

Nobody likes to think about having to let someone go. If you have ever been in this position, you may have gone through thoughts like: they need this job; they have a family to support. We can all understand this. The movie Up in the Air portrayed George Clooney’s character as a man who made a living letting people go. He had this job because nobody wanted to be in that position.

Many people hold off on making decisions like termination of an employee, thinking its the “nicer” thing to do. This does not help anybody. If you truly want to be kind and humane you have to realize that above all humans want to do well, they want to be good at what they do and they want to see success.

Here are the 12 most humane reasons to fire your employees.

1. Stop wasting people’s time

Time is money. How much time is spent trying to get a weaker employee up to speed or dealing with issues such as attendance, attitude, or simply poor results? Your instinct might be to try and help a struggling employee — provide training or additional development. A great approach for someone who wants to be there and has a passion for the job, but too many people waste this energy on people who just aren’t a good fit. Have a frank discussion with the person in question — find out how they feel. Cut to the chase and trust your instinct. Don’t waste everyone’s time and effort. If you know something is not going to work — end it. Let the person move on with their life. It is a matter of respect, stop wasting people’s time.

2. Don’t hold anyone back

Allow people to use their natural abilities. When people are using their natural abilities in their daily work they are happy. If people are trying to do something that doesn’t resonate with their being, they are fighting their natural ability and although they may be functional, they will not feel or be wildly successful. Let people focus on what they really like doing and want to be doing — if that means letting them go, let them go: that’s a true win/win situation. There is always someone else out there who will view the position as an opportunity to shine.

3. Remove burdens off the shoulders of your workers

Have you ever worked in a team where you have someone who is not carrying their weight? How does that feel? In general, if you have good team members, their first instinct will be to “carry” the weaker player. Usually in any group you will find a few of your best employees will have this “helping” role. They won’t complain about it because they think they are working for the team, however, they are actually hurting the company’s success by using their time to do things that they aren’t supposed to. If these issues are not addressed your good employees will feel a sense of inequity. They will be carrying the team even though they are supposed to be on an equal ground. Their performance will not be as good as it could be because their focus is divided doing something they were never expected to do and likely aren’t specialized to do either. As they fight to restore equity performance will drop, and morale will drop. How would you feel if you were far more capable than your peers, carried them, and yet were considered to be in the same role? Sounds like a recipe to lose your great employees… shift the focus and energy these people are putting from carrying the weaker player into doing their jobs. Show your team you appreciate their hard work by making sure they are in a team of equally qualified and motivated peers. Anything less is substandard. Winners don’t like to spend their time throwing water from a sinking ship.

4. Maintain high standards for everyone

When everyone is kept to the same standard, everyone feels good. A successful person doesn’t want to feel like they are surrounded by people less capable than them. People like to surround themselves with similar people, people who can inspire them, provide a little friendly competition and who they can relate to. When you maintain high standards, and let everyone know what they are expected to accomplish, people feel good. They know where they stand, they have motivation to succeed and they know every one else is also being held to the same expectations. Raise the bar and eliminate those who consistently just aren’t making it. An equitable environment is very important for stability and results.

5. Use your people’s strengths

Ensure your Managers are on top of results — everybody should be doing their job. When you enforce a policy based on business results that fairly evaluates performance by individuals as well as the team you get a good picture of who is struggling, who is not making the numbers and who is leading the pack. A lot of the problem today is that managers are not zoning in on the individuals, they are looking at the big picture. Make it your mission to maintain equity in the team. The only way you can manage this is to know your people’s strengths, keep up on results and regularly review performance. When your managers are connected with the team you will naturally see increases in profitability, morale, and accomplishments. *Important Note:* If not, then your managers will have to go too!

6. Employ leaders, not dictators

In order to make quick firing decisions you need to make sure managers know their staff. They need to know if the issue is something that can be fixed with additional training, or support. They need to know what motivates their people and what their capabilities are. The only way to know this is for management to get involved and really become a part of the team in a leadership role, vs. a dictator role. Eliminate dictators and start listening to the core of your business — your people. When communication is open and people are engaged with each other at all levels, success is inevitable.

7. Protect your culture

Why do great employees leave a great company? They don’t. If people feel recognized, surrounded by people who they can collaborate and learn from, they feel rewarded in their work. People say “they left for more money” but the reality is, in most cases money is not the deciding factor in leaving an organization. Environment and opportunity are critical. People who don’t fit the team, can’t do the work, or don’t get get along with others, don’t fit your culture. Remove people like this from your environment, help people who will thrive.

8. Ensure a positive & productive office environment

Have you ever been around someone who doesn’t feel like they can do their job? This is extremely discouraging for both the individual and to those around them, its a real downer. Humans are kind, they will feel bad for failing peers. Don’t let people work for you who feel like they are failing every day. Its as simple as that. Why are you holding on to them? Your team is suffering by having to witness this. Make your culture one of success and triumph, the benefits will carry over in all areas. People will feel good about coming to work, about being part of that success. Wouldn’t you rather be part of success than failure? Its a mindset: Breed success!

9. Prevent bad situations from becoming contagious

Any instance of negativity or conflict within a group can become contagious. Morale lowers, people feel abandoned. In situations like this, issues that go unaddressed start to spread. When the root of these problems starts with an individual you can not, in good conscience, allow this to infect your team. You must play your role as a leader and deal with the situation. Remove the source of the problem for the good of the team. Be the hero, your employees need you to intervene so they can focus on work.

10. Foster a “we” culture with open communication and support

Open the lines of communication. When people realize that the leaders are paying attention, when people see management responding to people who don’t pull their weight, the lines of communication open. In so many organizations there is such a disconnect between a supervisor, team leader or management that people foster an attitude of “them” vs “us”. This is unhealthy. Any time you have employees feeling like management is against them, its your warning sign to get to work because you have issues. Do not let negative situations go unattended. Bad situations become contagious and destroy a team. Being more involved with your team and paying attention to what is not working by taking quick action to resolve issues, including reprimanding or eliminating under performing, or negative team members shows them you are there. Someone is listening, someone is making sure the team will do well. This opens trust and builds a powerful team. To preserve this, those who do not fit need to be removed.

11. Enable growth and adaptation necessary for success

Fill the new positions with suited employees who want to be there, who love their jobs and who energize the environment. Don’t just put someone in a new role because they were in the role before. If you really want to avoid massive lay-offs or closures take care of your business now. Have zero tolerance for people who just do the minimum. A strong team of qualified dedicated workers will bring your company to the next level. They will push growth and adapt as needed because they know their work is valued, they see the company has standards and they have the capability to put the work in. They will keep driving success.

12. Growing up is hard to do

Sometimes you need to say goodbye. Sometimes an employee may be the sweetest person you ever met, their smile may light up a room, but their ability to do the job may not be there. It is hard to say goodbye to a nice person, but this is an opportunity for them to be somewhere where they could truly grow and be appreciated for their skill set. There is great human value to feeling this kind of appreciation — an appreciation they are not getting with you. As a leader, you can help the person through conversation, find a better path. You might even uncover new skills that work well in another department. There is always possibility and opportunity in change but it has to start with the tough questions and tough choices. It’s part of growing up. but more importantly its a big part of effective management. A good leader needs to protect and direct their people so that they never find themselves in a position where they have to call someone else in, like George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air , to wipe people out with little humanity or concern. Make tough choices early on. Provide a good environment for your people, even if that means letting some of them go.

To truly care about people and their overall success — whether that is within your organization or elsewhere — is true leadership and the most humane thing anyone can do.

Have you ever been in any of these positions?
Now who is ready to clean house and save the day?

Featured image courtesy of D4E licensed via Creative Commons.

Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN

Mila Araujo


Mila Araujo is a Social Business Strategist and Speaker, she has a diverse background in management, public relations, non-profit, and events; she is a Director of Personal Insurance at Ogilvy & Ogilvy, Montreal. In her previous roles, Mila organized international conferences on health care, as well as programs to promote health for seniors and children in partnership with the Government of Canada. In 2009, she worked with Modica Communications on the development of the Centre for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility, part of the Canadian government's Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Mila is a contributing author for several online sites, including 12 Most, Business2Community, Winning at the Insurance Gamble, Grow, and her own blog Perspectives featured in AllTop. Mila’s lived in Los Angeles, Paris, and Hawaii, and calls Montreal home. Mila is an active member of the Social Media community and Producer of #140 Conference Montreal. She’s passionate about connecting people, non-profits, employee engagement, leadership and using social tools for driving business to new levels.

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@Milaspage look forward to the read - appreciate the share. #hbrchat


Mila, I think every company leadership team should read this 12 Most post. I normally like to highlight the one or two good points in a post, but I agree wholeheartedly with everyone of these. And that is knowing that I've been part of organizations that were *NOT* good at this.


And like you said, we thought we were being lenient....kind...soft-hearted...masters of the 2nd (and 3rd...and 4th...) chance. However, we have a responsibility to our company, the rest of our employees' morale, and in some cases the individual. We need to be compassionate, equip them to succeed as much as possible, and be prepared to acknowledge that some people simply may not be suited for the job.


Interesting perspective. I've always maintained that you hurt employees more by not firing those who are not stellar producers. Firing people up forces them to find what they ARE stellar at.


Great post @Milaspage ! I think #9 is a whopper! I have seen this happen more than a few times -> a passive-aggressive difficult employee with an attitude problem drags the whole place down. It was incentive to start my own company though!


I have been in the position of having to let people go more times than I'd like. It doesn't get easier, but keeping these 12 supportive thoughts in mind make the letting go a constructive process rather than destructive. Cheers!


@amberrisme Hey sweetie? Not going out tonight? How are you doing?


Telling the truth and not stalling is also important AND having a fair and respectful severance package/program!


@Milaspage My pleasure! Your post was great and a topic that is rarely covered. Hope you are having a wonderful Friday!


Great post. Firing someone is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but sometimes it has to be done. Great job putting a human face on the person doing the firing and the reasons it has to be done.