how to let your staff know that someone was fired

For reasons that I will never understand, one of the most popular searches on this site is “how to announce an employee is leaving.” We’ve talked in the past about how to announce that (be straightforward and just say it), and we’ve talked about the even more inexplicable fact that some companies don’t announce it at all.

But we haven’t talked too much about the mechanics of announcing that an employee has been fired, and that can be a lot trickier.

Managers often have two big worries in this situation: How transparent should you be about the circumstances surrounding the employee’s departure, and how might news of a firing impact other employees’ morale?

As for transparency, you want to balance the need to explain why the employee is suddenly no longer part of your team with protecting that person’s privacy and dignity. So you might simply let others know the most important basics:  “Today was Amanda’s last day. We wish her the best. Her projects will be temporarily handled by Luis until we hire a replacement, which we hope will happen with six weeks.”

Your staff will generally understand that you’re not going to share every detail with them in cases like this. But if people press you for more details and they don’t have a true need to know, it’s fine to say that things didn’t work out but remind them that if they were in the employee’s shoes, they wouldn’t want those details shared.

As for morale, the key here is ensuring that your staff understands how performance problems are handled. After all, you may know that you had numerous conversations with the employee before letting her go, and gave her warnings and chances to improve, but since your staff isn’t privy to that, it’s important that they know how to handle these situations in general – since otherwise they may worry that firings happen out of the blue. Make sure that you’re open with your staff about how you address performance problems in general so that they understand you don’t make arbitrary personnel decisions and so that they feel confident that they would be warned if their performance was falling short and would have a chance to improve.

As long as your staff understands how performance problems handled, a firing shouldn’t lower morale. In fact, sometimes exactly the opposite happens – since, after all, keeping low performers on staff is typically a huge morale drain for high performers. If your staff has spotted the problems, they’ll often be relieved when those problems are resolved. And even when employees are friendly with the staff member being let go, as long as they trust that you operate in a fair and straightforward manner, most people can separate personal affection from professional assessments.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly O*

    Great article Allison!

    Here’s a tip on how not to “do” a firing –
    – call everyone with an office in individually to let them know someone has been let go, not for any real performance issue, but because they’re “not the person to take us to the next level” and then informally put them on notice.
    – have the new person start an hour after the old person left, and don’t tell anyone you’ve made the change.
    – never make any formal announcement about the new director-level person, or any mention of the predecessor being gone. Continue to act like everyone else ought to be okay with this and just “get it.”

  2. Anonymous*

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s particularly important to tell people’s team members (e.g. assistants who work with an individual directly) that said individual was fired. I found it quite awkward when a senior team member just disappeared and no one said anything for over two weeks.

  3. JT*

    Where I work is pretty good about this, but a number of years ago I was on vacation and missed an announcement at a staff meeting about why someone left. I was looking for him when I got back to the office someone had to tell me “Oh yeah, the police caught up with X – they said he’d been embezzling from his last job and they eventually found out.” Ouch.

  4. Anonymous*

    Also, I was just reading the comments from one of the linked older posts, which got me thinking. I think in normal circumstances (bad fit, sup-par work, etc.) it’s best just to say someone is moving on and you wish them the best. However, IMHO, if (and only if) there was some sort of clearly egregious violation of the rules (e.g. harassment, embezzlement, punching someone, not replacing the milk) it makes sense to share this (with only the basic details) so that employees know that (a) these issues are taken seriously, so don’t do them and (b) if you follow the rules, we won’t fire you out of the blue. (E.g. “Unfortunately, due to some comments that violated our anti-harassment policy, today is Bob’s last day. If you have any questions regarding our anti-harassment policy, please speak with HR.”).

    AAM–As long as the employer can back up their claim, would an employer be risking (losing) a lawsuit by doing this? I think that litigation is the reason that there are so many really weird responses to terminations.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You know, there’s a real argument to be made that it can be useful to be very transparent about the reasons for a firing, so that you reinforce in your culture the idea that standards are high / harassment isn’t tolerated / etc. You’ve got to have the right kind of culture to do this though, or you risk coming across to other employees as not preserving the fired employee’s dignity. So it’s a delicate balancing act.

  5. Jamie*

    “As long as your staff understands how performance problems are handled, a firing shouldn’t lower morale. In fact, sometimes exactly the opposite happens – since, after all, keeping low performers on staff is typically a huge morale drain for high performers. If your staff has spotted the problems, they’ll often be relieved when those problems are resolved.”

    This. 1000x this.

    Low performers and slackers are not only not adding value – there is a real financial cost to this far beyond their salary. When you tolerate sub-par performers you will always generate resentment with the top percentile. Always.

    Every day businesses keep the slackers while driving away the people they need the most…and fail to see the cause and effect ratio which applies.

  6. jmkenrick*

    Alison – did you mean “within six weeks?”

    “Today was Amanda’s last day. We wish her the best. Her projects will be temporarily handled by Luis until we hire a replacement, which we hope will happen with six weeks.”

  7. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Thanks for the comments! I’d love it if you’d also share your thoughts in the comments over there, since it’s good for them to know that people are engaging with my content :)

  8. Joe*

    Based on my experience:

    If fired:
    ” is no longer with the company.”

    If laid off:
    ” is no longer with the company and we wish him well in his/her future endeavors.”

    1. Natalie*

      Interesting. In my company, lay offs would just be called that or something close to it (“position was eliminated”). “Joe has left the company” with no announcement from Joe means he got canned. Sadly, we’re lucky to get an announcement – usually the first inkling someone has been fired is getting a bounceback when you email them.

  9. JT*

    If the person wasn’t performing, it’s useful for staff to know. Or if the person was a high-achiever and left for some other reason, it’s also important for staff to know that – otherwise people doing good work will think “Oh man, I’m probably next,” which can hurt morale.

  10. Snow Hill Pond*

    I still remember resigning from one company, and my boss immediately sends an email to the whole department with the header “SMITH RESIGNS!” Yes, it was in all caps.

    You would have thought I was President Nixon. The text of the email however did not say, “Our long national nightmare is over…”. He was actually quite gracious in the email, but the header was a little jarring and created some buzz for a week or so.

  11. Another Anon*

    I once got a phone call from a coworker saying, “Mary hasn’t come in for the last month. I heard a rumor she was fired. She was our project manager and now no one is doing anything on the project. Do you know what we’re supposed to do?” I begged our talent management to adopt a rule of announcing, “Mary is no longer with us” if details of the exit should remain confidential. They insist on telling managers only. If they want to keep people from knowing, don’t they need to prop a dummy in her chair?
    Your other point is a good one. Mary had been fired, and confided in me privately that she was told it was due to a long-standing pattern of poor performance that she came as a complete surprise to her. Could that really be true? If we had a clear policy of progressive discipline I’d doubt her story and consider even such a secretive action to be probably a fair one. But we don’t.

    1. anonymous*

      Yes. It could totally be true. The company at which I work plays these games with people all the time. It’s really sad.

  12. NikkiN*

    Great responses AAM. I have unfortunately had to fire staff in the past and it is miserable enough to have to do it let alone handle the awkward aftermath. Lucky for me, the majority of the time it was clear that the staff member was a low performer so there was more relief than anything. Now in the cases of the posting company info on facebook and stealing from a customer (yes these things happened- blah) staff want to know all the details. I never discuss them, but my experience has been that the fired staff member contacts staff they were friendly with and give all the gory details themselves. This removed me from having to explain anything.

  13. Anon*

    I wish my company’s suggestion box was still truly anonymous – I would suggest all the managers start reading your columns AAM.

    For firings – no communication. Usually, a firing is not too much of a surprise since the person affected has been talking about the stuff leading up to it anyway (99% of our firings are attendance related). You can often make all the errors in the world and they’ll really work with you, but dangit don’t get the flu and a flat tire in the same year. (slight exaggeration, but not by much)

    For layoffs – they will announce the layoff but not specifically who is let go. Sometimes we have been told the number of people cut from each location/department. We’re in customer service so it’s not like you have ongoing projects that need continuity, but the last layoff included an evening manager at another location. Evening staffing is reduced and we needed help from that location and no one told us about the management change. It was jarring and almost ended up negatively impacting our clients. After layoffs everyone just starts counting on their fingers who is gone. The last layoff was especially tramatic. The company told us it was economy related but also performance based, then wouldn’t tell any of us what the performance part of it was. Some of the people let go were clearly deadweight, but some were hard workers who did a good job. Management wouldn’t tell us what the problems were, but did tell us that we all needed make sure we were working hard not to make it on the cut list in the future. Morale went in the toilet. Then, within a month we hired a bunch of people from a competitor’s office that the competitor was closing. So clearly the economy was just an excuse used to fire a bunch of people – though since it was termed a layoff at least they got a severance package. People were so angry and scared and confused by the whole situation that management felt an announcement needed to be made that we should not resent the new people. :eyeroll:

    For voluntary leavings – it’s jumbled. If you’re well-liked and/or in management, then you get to work out your notice. Since you’re still there, you have time and access to the company email to send out a goodbye email. For anyone who is not a particular favorite and is not a manager, you have to be prepared to leave the same day (or next). Even so, no announcements from management. Our corporate communications department will announce when an executive is leaving the company though.

    And yes, I would say there are other areas of poor management as well.

    1. anon-2*

      Occasionally the staff would have to know of a firing — somehow it’s best to make an announcement with no comment — you can’t have rumors, but then again, rumors will spread, so the rumor mill / smoke signals might handle that without management having to say anything.

      Layoffs? Yes, discuss them. Every place I’ve been has always had a meeting of “mother hen” and her “chicks” — management calls everyone together after the massacre and tries to calm everyone down — usually unsuccessfully, but , that’s what they do after a layoff.

      If someone leaves voluntarily – works out their notice – then the word goes ’round, and almost always it’s peaceful and civil. It’s rare that someone wants to “go out in a blaze of glory.” The person should be allowed to say good-bye.


    anyone have a problem with a employee telling a customer a false reason as to why a co worker of theirs was fired? and the person who got fired got wind of this and said they were going to sue the company because their employee was a representative of their company.

  15. Anonymous*

    I was unlawfully terminated from a government job. They violated several ADA laws and fired me with no notice, I was sick and shaking from a diabetes attack. I asked please could they wait until I could see my doctor and have a lawyer with me before any more stressful, degrading, humiliating meetings. They never told me it was about termination at all. Would not divulge reason for another meeting. I told them I could not go through any more, to please wait until I could see my doctor, my bp was 178/95 and I was having a diabetes episode. I was in no shape to sign anything under duress or be threatened with termination as I had been in the past. I was a seven year employee, fully “vested.” I was treated in front of witnesses with extreme disrespect and disdain. I had done nothing wrong except miss work for ADA reasons and had a doctor’s note explaining same. They docked my paycheck and fired me. I need to see an employment attorney, I know, and file with the ADA and EEOC, but I need to know this now: they sent out an email to ALL employees (5,000 of them), all judges etc I worked with, then same email to all of the 35 professionals I supervised, telling EVERYONE I had been TERMINATED. I think this is not only “tacky” and in bad taste, but I am pretty sure it is illegal. It is defamation of character and affects direct referrals from all those judges and colleagues in the future for work they could send me. I am a professional with court system and a mediator. My livelihood depends on my reputation and character. They have destroyed both. What can I do? Or should I do nothing and let EEOC or ADA attorneys handle this one? I have been humiliated in front of all my peers, fired in the rotunda of the courthouse where the public and all my coworkers could look on. And, to top it ALL off, they brought three deputies with them to make sure I was publicly humiliated like I had committed some crime or was being arrested for something. I was escorted out of the building and stripped of my security clearance badge and keys, all without any notice whatsoever or time to prepare. All the while being well-aware I have panic-anxiety disorder, a heart condition, and was clearly warned by phone that my blood pressure was through the roof, I was shaking from a diabetes attack (not yet diagnosed, but I showed all the symptoms), asked for a lawyer before meeting, asked to see my doctor first to make sure I would have a stroke or heart attack under all that stress. All denied. Can they publicly through emails notify all my clients, future clients, people I supervise, fellow colleagues, the entire mediator list of 100 people, that I was fired?????

  16. Disappearing Sal*

    One of the worst – to me – is when people simply disappear workers that are let go. If there is theft, something egregious, I understand, but some places use this as a policy. It’s horrible for morale and makes the management looks like weak leaders. After a few people just disappear, it leaves the rest of the team afraid and I think it hurts productivity and most of all trust. Especially in small groups. Sure, people have to be be let go, but giving a team some time to adjust, etc. can be the right move.

  17. Joe Cool*

    Just tell them the truth: Hey guys, you know that lazy, lying, stealing POS that started working here last month? Well, we fired his sorry butt and didn’t let the screen door hit it on his way out. The rest of you don’t want this to happen, then shape up NOW.

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