February 13, 2014

How to Fire a Friend (Respectfully)

Sad Man And His Helpful FriendHaving to dismiss an employee is hard enough, but when you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to fire a friend–perhaps a friend you hired or a colleague who you became good friends with–things suddenly become a whole lot worse. This is because you know you risk losing both an employee and a friend in the process. I accept that dismissal processes vary by country, so this ‘fire a friend’ process is procedurally simplified, which means many of the tips  in a ‘fire a friend’ situation can be applied in any country.

1. Treat it like any other dismissal

Your friend is still an employee and will be subject to any rules and regulations surrounding employee dismissal in your state or country. Just because you are his or her friend doesn’t mean that you can shortcut procedures and employment law. As soon as you begin to tell your friend he or she is being fired, you can be sure the person will quickly switch from “friend” mode to “employee” mode, and you need to be ready.

2. Prepare a sensitive but employee-centered communication and rehearse it

While you cannot be blind to the fact that the person you are about to fire is a friend, you need to remain in employee mode throughout this time, albeit with a touch of sensitivity for a friend. For example, you might open the communication by acknowledging your friendship and its emotional impact on the situation, but then drawing a line here and moving into the employee element of the situation.

For example, you might say start with friend mode, but quickly move into employee mode as follows:

James, we have been good friends both in and out of work for quite a few years and I have enjoyed our friendship, and this is why it is especially difficult for me to have to tell you that we will be ending your employment.

You should then go on to explain the exact technical and fair reasons for firing the employee as you would with any other worker.

The reason that this is happening is that due to a change in the business structure, the position that you hold, along with four other similar positions are no longer needed.

You should also go on to explain any support and severance that will be applied along with the exact termination arrangement. The person may be overwhelmed by the news, so offer to take questions both now and at a later date after he or she has had time to reflect, just like with any other employee.

The workers may also need some time to vent and respond, so allow time for this and be as patient and accommodating as you feel you need to be, but if gets excessive, personal or aggressive you may need to terminate the meeting.

As with most other meetings, I’d recommend that you have a neutral witness, such as an HR professional, as this will help to ensure you comply with all regulations and will help to ensure that a lid is kept on emotions and it stays firmly in employee mode.

Rehearse what you are going to say prior to the meeting and also rehearse various responses to the person’s upset emotions.

Several days after the meeting, send him or her an email, ideally from your personal email account to his or her personal email account. Do this after the person has been formally fired, as you don’t want this to be misconstrued as an informal back door where he or she can ask for favors. Be as apologetic as you can and let the individual know you would like to remain friends. He or she may or may not decide to take you up on your offer and if the person doesn’t, you probably need to respect his or her wishes.

Read more in Dismissal

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.