Dismissal: Six Tips To Let An Employee Go, Compassionately

The world faces an incredibly persistent and lasting threat right now in the form of COVID-19 (coronavirus). While it won’t be around forever, it has exposed how vulnerable many industries are to travel and physical interaction. Even those that are not directly exposed are feeling the effects as their customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders reposition and prioritise their business spend elsewhere.

If you’re a business owner or executive, you’ve no doubt already taken action to cut costs, lean out and reposition your operations. Depending on your industry, you may have had to completely shut down, leaving your plans, cash flow and staff in the lurch. It’s an unprecedented scenario with unprecedented effects. What is clear, however, are the dismal employment numbers starting to get reported. The US economic shutdown has resulted in over 16 million jobs lost, in just three weeks.

“As recruiters or corporate professionals, we should always be thinking about what we can learn from a situation”

Unfortunately, even after taking swift corrective action, labour costs cannot be sustained if revenue has fallen off a cliff. Employees have to go. For many new organisations, people managers and HR teams, it will be their first run-in with the redundancy process, particularly at a scale such as this. As recruiters or corporate professionals, we should always be thinking about what we can learn from a situation. While the coronavirus will pass, the need to make hard decisions and let staff go will inevitably arise again in the future. Here are my six best tips to letting an employee go, compassionately.

Tip #1 – Always Remain Kind and Compassionate

Regardless of the reason for dismissal, the fact that it’s out of their control (at this point) is going to be a blow to them. If the employee had wanted to leave, they would have done so on their own accord. 

Regardless of what you are going through as a business owner or hiring manager, you’re delivering some seriously negative news to your employee. It’s essential you remain kind and compassionate with how you deliver the news. It can be extremely traumatic for employees who rely entirely on the role for an income or social interaction (their work ‘family’). Older employees who have been with the company for a long time are particularly vulnerable.

Timing is essential. While it may never be a good time to deliver the bad news, earlier in the day is usually better. Be to the point and don’t delay the inevitable. Sitting on your decision all day is not suitable for you, and it will take your employee by more surprise than it would otherwise (‘why were you acting normal all day?’). If their exit is immediate, they’ll resent not being able to properly farewell their colleagues – don’t do this.

If the employee had great traits, or their dismissal or redundancy was out of their control, offer to help out and provide a letter of reference. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll feel better about the situation, you’ve done everything you can.

Tip #2 – Have Everything In Order and Prepared 

As an employer, prepare what you’re going to say – it certainly makes the process easier. Don’t write a script; it will come across forced and disingenuous. Nonetheless, ensure you’ve thought about what you plan to say. Keep it simple, to the point and don’t sugar-coat the reason behind the decision. 

Practice your delivery and know your company’s processes. Have all the required documentation ready so that the process can go as smoothly as possible. Once you’ve delivered what you had to say and the company’s decision, explain how and when they are to leave, what they need to do and any other information around their requirements, immediate role and exit that they might need. The less confusion, the better.

Tip #3 – It Shouldn’t Be A Surprise

While the current economic situation has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere, a dismissal should never be a complete surprise. If it does come across as a surprise, there’s some self-reflection that needs to happen. 

As a business, have you been providing timely feedback or allowing the staff member to address their shortcomings? 

Have employees been given opportunities to improve and learn?

Have you communicated the harsh economic reality and allowed staff to contribute and offer solutions?

Feedback should be timely and relevant. Company-wide risks and impacts should get communicated company-wide. 

Dismissal processes should be consistent. If you dismiss one team or specific employee, it should be fair and free of bias. There should be an explainable basis for it. The last thing you want is for disgruntled employees to come back to bite you, or to demoralise your remaining workforce and relationships.

Tip #4 – Keep It Private and Don’t Go It Alone

Always keep sensitive meetings and decisions private. The employee/s should be told in a closed environment and not made to feel embarrassed or exposed to their colleagues. It’s between the business and them, no one else. Immediately, it’s up to the employee to tell people their situation if they choose to.

If you feel it would be beneficial, involve your HR business partner in the tough conversations. Consider offering or providing for an exit interview so that you can gain potentially valuable feedback from the departing staff member. There will be many situations where an employee may expose problems in the business or management when they’re given the comfort and opportunity to discuss matters with HR after their dismissal. 

When they do need to leave, arrange for an after-hours departure or a timeframe that suits their privacy. Have someone escort the ex-employee out and make sure the exit process is as planned as possible to avoid confusion and unnecessary stress, for either party.

Tip #5 – Don’t Let the Process Drag On

Always keep conversations and the exit process simple and straightforward. Always follow your local laws and company policy when it comes to terminating or letting employees go. Don’t get bogged down on the negatives and nitty-gritty, and it’s seldom worth it. 

Pay severance in full and don’t skimp out. Your employer brand includes how you let employees leave. Employer branding is built through the entire lifecycle of an employee. You will need to hire again, so keep this in mind.

Always give sufficient notice and reiterate the positives that came from their employment. If your company is going through a hard time at the moment, it’s possible you may want to rehire this employee down the track. Again, keep it positive!

Tip #6 – Reflect, Is There Something to Learn?

Why are you letting them go to begin with? Did something go wrong with them, the company or was it external factors? Regardless of the reason, something could have been done better.

This is for you and your organisation to assess. Given the costs associated with employee turnover, it’s a lucrative exercise to understand what led to a staff member leaving. Perhaps there were incorrect hiring decisions made. Maybe there are business processes that need to be improved in order to minimise the risk of future overstaffing.

If there’s a pattern, consider what you can do to fix the underlying issue. 

How can you recruit and hire better in the future?


Using the right applicant tracking system (ATS) to onboard and recruit new employees increases efficiency. An effective ATS reduces costs and maximises your organisation’s ability to secure top talent. Improving your recruitment processes will naturally reduce the likelihood of needing to let an employee go. With more people looking for work or reconsidering their employment options, the opportunities to poach quality talent are staked higher than ever before.

Take your company’s recruitment function to the next level with the #1 end-to-end recruitment and onboarding software platform. MyRecruitmentPlus – try it for free today.

Best of luck! Until next time,



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