I never know how to deal with the situation, and I could use some professional pointers. We are a small company and a tight-knit team. Generally, our team is full of soft-spoken, kind-hearted folks. And so when an underperforming team member gets let go, no matter how much everyone expected it, everyone gets a little dark and quiet; morale drops.

As their manager, I want to shout from the rooftops how relieving it is to have this difficult decision behind us. As a team, we should know how much better off we'll be. In the cases of almost every firing, everyone in the team knew there was a problem with how this person contributed to and affected the team. Now we get to start fresh looking for someone new who works harder and fits better within our team. But I can never find words to articulate this that aren't callous. Seeming even a little chipper to the team seems crass.

Especially as the manager of the team, how should I address my team regarding this action?

  • 18
    Did the team actually think the person who was fired was underperforming? This drastically affects how you can deal with this situation
    – enderland
    Feb 1 '13 at 20:02
  • 1
    @enderland - absolutely. This question isn't about one firing, but yes, in every case I've let someone go, it's always been after the team is, one way or another, behind the decision.
    – pbarranis
    Feb 1 '13 at 20:07
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    In that case, you're probably right that your team just doesn't want to seem happy that a team member is gone. You may just need to give them the day to be more quiet and somber, and go into work the next day as your normal chipper self.
    – Adam V
    Feb 1 '13 at 20:15
  • 9
    "Let this be a lesson to all of you. I'm keeping track of all of your missteps in my little black book. The next person that reaches 100 demerits will be shown the door. Carry on."
    – John
    Feb 1 '13 at 20:57
  • 18
    "In the cases of almost every firing" That sounds quite alarming. How often are you firing people? That may have an impact on people.
    – Burhan Ali
    Feb 8 '13 at 15:49

The way I see it, the two most important things you can convey to your team in these situations are:

  1. We do not take terminations lightly here, and people don't get let go without good cause.

    The last thing you want is for your team to think they can get fired at the drop of a hat for minor offenses or by complete surprise. Explain to your team that there is performance counseling and coaching that takes place to attempt course corrections before the last resort of termination. Of course there are exceptions, like violence, fraud, etc.

  2. Each (remaining) person on the team is important and not viewed as dispensable or easily replaceable.

    Firings tend to create a feeling of cheapness amongst the remaining employees. Try to minimize this effect by assuring each of your employees individually that they are valued, and why. You should be doing this on a regular basis anyway, not just in times of damage control.

You don't have to go into detail about why you had to terminate the employee, but you do need to make the remaining team feel appreciated and safe. Oh, and no shouting from the rooftops!

  • 8
    "You are valued.... until we have to fire you. Then, only everyone else is valued. Sorry about that." Aug 7 '16 at 12:45
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    This to me sounds completely like management speak. Unfortunately, no matter how convincing you make it, many employees will know that a manager might say this kind of stuff whether it's true or not. Unless you can provide evidence of this performance counseling, coaching and attempts to avoid the firing - but then you would be revealing a lot more of the firee's personal business than you probably should to their former team members. Especially in smaller companies, I have found.
    – colmde
    Aug 8 '16 at 8:08

This is honestly one of the hardest things to do. Personally, I find that the week to a month after a termination, I'm more separated from my team than I am at almost any other time. Regardless of how much everyone knows that the person needed to go, there's a time of feeling separation between the team and the manager, because 99% of the time, it was the manager who had to make the final call and take responsibility for the process.

1 - Accept the Grief

Grief is grief. You can't really fix it, but you can accept it, empathize with it and let it pass. It's justifiable. Just because you know someone is not doing work that is up to par, you can still like the person, and miss having them around. Don't discard that - it's the sign of caring people.

If you feel genuine (seriously, this is not a time to try faking it), join in. I've had to let go of people I genuinely liked and I'm able to admit that it may be hypocritical, but there are things I miss about them.

If not, if everyone else is grieving - sometimes silence is golden. Let the grieving happen for a short while (it just has to feel right - a day? a week? - how long did most people know the leaving person?), then get the team focused on work and something good.

2 - Be respectful

Different companies will have different norms, but usually the general is a lot safer than the details. Depending how much drama has ensued or how much terror is present, you may need to do some public speaking. Things to emphasize:

  • you don't take this lightly - it was a very hard decision
  • no one will be subject to abrupt and unwarned termination unless they commit a gross violation of company policy or the law (yes, committing armed robbery will get you fired on the spot, slacking a day on a document delivery? probably not)
  • it was in your opinion more fair to let the person go than to keep them - it was the best and last resort for team health
  • there was more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Details are not a topic for public discussion. It's the golden rule - would you want your employee assessments discussed publicly? probably not. The same respect holds, even for terminated employees.

Make yourself available for private discussions. Let it be known publicly. If you know people who were particularly close to the individual, reach out if possible and offer to lend an ear or answer questions. Avoid venting about the person - even privately - but do listen to concerns and do your best to soothe the fears. This can be easier one on one because you can share your faith and respect for the person you are talking to in a more direct 1-on-1 way than you could in a public setting. Not everyone will want to sign up for this, and it really can't be forced, but when it occurs, take it as a blessing to build a stronger tie with the people who continue to do good work.

This is a time when the tradeoff between public and private speaking is key. Public information sent to everyone gives the reassurance that there is common information and something everyone can count on. Private speech backs up that declaration, staying consistent but giving people individualized feedback that may be more relevant to them (whether they are good performers or need to change some behavior). But keeping the information consistent is crucial.

For me, it comes down to showing that you have respect - respect for following company policy, respect in giving people feedback that is both candid and private, respect for the rest of the team both making sure that team work is divided (and paid for in salaries) fairly, and that the team gets the best talented, dedicated, and helpful individuals that you can find. That respect outweighs the horrible part of having to let someone go.

3 - Focus on Work

People on good, thriving teams, generally like the work. Either they like the work itself or they like doing the work with their team members. Or (ideally) both - so focus on the work. What do we need to do? What gaps are left behind (a nice segway from grief)? What's next?

Give some time before the work is about finding a new team member. It's like a little death - you can't just plug and play (and who on your team would want to think that it's possible to do so?) Give it a bit. Even if you have to start working with recruiting, and talking to candidates... let the team rest for a week or two.

When you do open up and talk about the next team member, focus on the gaps in the team not the hole left by the lost team member. Frequently, a loss can be a gain in that you find a better combination of skills and personality traits that you hadn't ever had before. Collect thoughts about that as you refine the new job with your team. Having the idea of open possibilities is uplifting.

4 - What about that relief?

You're on your own. Sorry.

My theory is that the relief is most strongly tied to those who had to go through the manager side of the termination process. You're the one with the control, and the responsibility... and the relief. For you it was a decision and a painful, painful activity. For everyone else, it felt fairly uncontrolled. A "good" firing (if such exists) is one where the private details stay private, and the person leaves with as much dignity as possible. But that leaves a team asking why the person left when there was no fighting, no blame or any sign of negativity -- because all the hard parts were never seen, heard or felt.

I have had the joy of sharing my relief at an awful process finally completed when among the other managers who had to help with the termination (at least in a big company, this is never a one man job). But this is the moment when unless the person is an absolutely terrifying negative impact, the team will be grieving while you will be limp (or elated) with relief at it finally being over.

Just like you had to bear the brunt of feedback sessions, warnings, and formal organizational paperwork when you would rather have been making something joyful and working with your generally awesome team - now you will have to celebrate your lack of tension privately. Try to store it up. Take a family member or friend out for dinner and a movie. Vent outside the office. Spend a little extra time doing something fun you love doing. Let the relief charge parts of your life that were being drained by the stress of the office.


Do not talk about the reasons for firing!

This is none of the teams business. They can probably guess but besides any potential legal and privacy issues all it will do is give the team something to gossip about. Tell the team they no longer work there and leave it at that. Do not entertain any questions about the reasons, as this is a private matter between the company and the former employee.

Make a plan for picking up the slack

Now that the former employee is gone there are probably tasks that will need to be completed that were assigned to them. Get someone to handle those tasks. It is best to parse the tasks out to the team, as this lets them constructively get some closure since they are able to participate in cleaning up the mess left behind.

Talk to the Team 1 on 1 where needed

Stay away from details but let the team members that were close know that it was not an easy decision and assess an potential fallout that may arise. Then plan to deal with that. It is important to acknowledge that the team is made up of people and that while it is important that the team stay strong you realize that the people who make up that team are important too.


There are two possible things at work here. They may be sad that "John" who was good guy personally even if not that good at his job is unemployed or they may be worried about their own jobs.

First, make sure that people know that the company is not downsizing and their own jobs are not at risk. This should eliminate some of that vague uneasiness when people get scared that they are next.

If you have team members who are also having performance problems, you need to talk to them one on one and discuss what they specifically can do to avoid being the next one to go.

As far as the team being down for a day or so, accept that this is normal and don't try to get them all happy. It is normal to be sad when someone you personally like gets fired even if you are glad that they are gone for professional reasons. Don't try to work against normal emotions.

If the down feeling lasts more than a day or so, then they may still be nervous about their own job and what kind of mistakes will get them fired. If it goes on for more than a day, I would talk to people individually to find out what is bothering them and then use that information to try to mitigate whatever the concern is.

Whatever you say, it is none of their business why "John" got fired and you should not disclose the details. You should however, let them know (and not at the time you fire someone) what steps you will take to improve performance before it gets to firing. That way people who haven't had any of those steps will feel more confident and those who have been put on a performance improvement program are more aware that this is serious stuff and not improving will get you fired. You might also make sure everyone knows that you don't expect anyone to be mistake free.

Timing is another issue. Try really hard not to fire the week before a major deadline. Trying to pick up what someone else hasn't finished at the last minute when you are already stressed trying to get your current assignments done will just add to the stress of a launch week. If the person was not going to make the deadline and that is a good part of why he got canned, take the less important unfinished tasks out of the sprint or release so that the person assigned to fix his bad work only has to worry about that. And if possible move the deadline because if the person was that bad, the person getting the task instead may have to throw out what he did and start over and can't actually physically meet the deadline. People are less stressed when they know that you understand that fixing a mess may take longer that the time you have left.

What I am really trying to say here, is don't wait until you know a deadline is going to be missed to fire someone. Catch bad performance earlier than that. Firing in conjunction with a deadline will frighten people even more. And the the next time a deadline comes up, they will become afraid to tell you if they are behind.


This is not intended as a "competing" answer, as there are some pretty good answers here already, but one more thing that you should consider:

Not immediately after the firing, but starting a couple of days after, have a 5-minute 1-on-1 with each team member, and tell them how much you appreciate the work they've done over the last few months or so, and specifically acknowledge individual contributions - I.E. "That was really good work on that TPS Report Cover Sheet generator." and letting them know you are going to be relying on them personally for something on your team's agenda.

It will calm anxieties without drawing attention to the termination. Employees who feel appreciated and valued, especially when they genuinely are, will be secure, productive, and creative. Money is great, but at the end of the day what most people want is to be personally valued (at least in Western cultures).


Let people with a similar role know that it was a multi-factor decision. We had a situation in our team where a real low-performer (with bad work morale) suppling a certain service to the projects destroyed his relations with every (4 different) project responsibles in 4 projects consecutively. I (one of the project responsibles) explained clearly to his successor that it was not a "we missed a deadline once" thing (It was more a: we missed every deadline, we missed every hour budget, and the work in the end the result had so many bug it was unusable) to make sure the successor knew how big the problem were in comparison to a normal working relation.

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