Management Minute: Do’s and Don'ts of Firing a Friend

Firing a Friend

Firing an employee is one of the most difficult responsibilities of being in management. It’s even more unpleasant when the person is a workplace friend.

If you find yourself in that awkward situation as a finance and accounting manager, keep in mind these ways of doing it right — and wrong.

DON’T shy away from your responsibilities.

Performance reviews and disciplinary meetings can be a “problem employee’s” last chance to turn things around, or the first stage of the firing process. It may be difficult to speak with a workplace friend you believe is falling short on the job. But even toxic employees would get warnings about poor behavior and low performance, and your friend deserves the same courtesy. Otherwise, you don’t give your friend the chance to improve, and you risk firing him or her unfairly, which could lead to resentment — and possibly litigation.

DO hold a formal meeting.

You're the boss. In all other settings, you may be a friend. But when breaking the news about a job loss, you must maintain the employer-employee relationship. Follow normal protocol by holding a meeting, and invite the HR manager to be an impartial witness. This approach will keep things professional. If the employee is being fired for performance failings, have your employee’s file on hand to discuss the cause of termination.

DON'T be casual.

Firing anyone is a serious situation, so treat it as such. Don’t try to put a friendly spin on things, and don’t use humor. If you approach the meeting with a casual manner, your friend may not fully understand the consequences — or may be upset that you’re not taking the job loss seriously. Plan what you’re going to say in advance, and perhaps even practice it a few times. Then get to your point quickly once the meeting starts.

Start by explaining the reasons for your decision, whether it’s downsizing or performance. Outline any help that’s available when searching for new work, including references and severance packages. But be genuine, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. Expect this to be an emotional moment for your friend, who might not be able to take in many details. So stick to the basics, and offer to answer questions now or in the future.

DON'T get somebody else to do it.

Firing a friend will almost certainly cause you sleepless nights, but making difficult decisions are part of an accounting manager’s job description. If you ask someone else to take over your hard choices, you’ll likely lose the respect of your friend and other members of your team.

DO offer to keep in touch.

It’s OK to get back in touch with fired friends outside the office, but they may not want to maintain contact. That’s something you’ll have to accept. Try emailing from your personal account a few days after your final meeting and say that you’re sorry things turned out the way they did. Explain that you’d like to keep in touch, and then hope the feeling is mutual.

No accounting manager wants to be in a position of firing anyone, much less a friend. But letting go of team members is an unavoidable part of succeeding in business. It can be painful, but always stay professional, and do your best to handle the situation with grace, not guilt.

Have you ever had to fire a friend, or were you the one let go? Share your advice in the comments section below.