6 Keys to Graceful Employee Terminations

When running a business, there are many things you will enjoy doing! Termination of an employee is most likely NOT one of those things. While it is not enjoyable, it is sometimes necessary.

The following two-part guest post from William Higgins will give you some great tips on how to execute terminations with grace. William is Founder and Managing Director of Mindware, Inc., a performance development, consulting, and publishing organization.



When it’s time for the termination of one or a number of employee’s relationships with the organization, it will almost always be painful, but it can be done with grace.

    The call on Monday came unexpectedly on my office phone, “I have some bad news,” the caller said after identifying themselves, “Friday will be your last day as an employee here.”

    The emotional blow from that pronouncement was like a heavyweight boxing champ giving me a roundhouse punch to the stomach. My knees were wobbly as if I had just finished running a marathon, and the stress induced noise in my head was like I was standing inside a skyscraper that had been brought to dust and debris from an implosion.

Such are the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of one just terminated.

No More Information?

There was no announcement to the team to let them know what had taken place. Nothing was said thanking the individual for their contribution, or informing co-workers of what lay ahead. It was just he was there one day and gone the next.

Can you imagine the blow to the individual, the drag this action had on morale, the fear in the minds of other team members as they asked themselves, “Am I next?”

What Should You Do?

As an employer, there are numerous valid reasons for termination of an employee’s business relationship, and you cannot stop the pain the person experiences. The pain is real. The experience hurts. It’s condescending and degrading to just ask them to trust God and know it will all work out for the best. While it’s true God will work things out, that kind of observation minimizes their feelings.

You will want to be sure you coordinate with your Human Resources department to be sure you are abiding by federal and state laws. While you cannot sidestep the pain of a termination, there are things you can do to terminate with dignity, value, and grace.

6 Keys To Graceful Termination

These 6 biblical keys will help integrate grace into the difficult termination process:

1. Be personal.
If at all possible meet with the person face-to-face. It’s terribly impersonal to receive this news over the phone, and it’s easy to feel like the person delivering the news took easy way out. If the person resides in another city, telephoning may be the only way, but it must be a second choice. In Matthew 18 Jesus instructs us to meet with a brother that has sinned against you in person. While the situation is different, the principle is the same.

2. Be honest.
There was a problem with the way some believers in the New Testament were welcoming those not walking in truth. John wrote to “the chosen lady” in 2 John to warn her of this. He was kind, gentle, and affirming, but he also spoke the truth. Don’t mince words with the terminated individual. Let them know the decision has been made and the reasons; performance issues, budget containment, or other valid resons. This approach will ensure they’re not confused or think there is still a way to salvage their position.

Don’t apologize. Don’t tell them everything will be okay. Don’t tell them they won’t have any trouble finding a new job. Don’t tell them they’ll feel better after they sleep on it. Don’t tell them how badly you feel about the decision. All of these can be viewed as condescending, even if said sincerely, since you still have a job. Assure them God is still at work, and He’s not finished with them yet.

3. Be gentle.
Paul discusses this principle in Galatians 6 in the context of a believer caught in sin, but the same principle applies here as well. In verse 1 of Galatians 6 Paul says to restore the person “gently.” The word gently in the original has in mind the care and compassion of a doctor firmly but tenderly setting a broken bone. You need to be firm, but you also need to be gentle. Don’t rush roughshod over the person. Inform them of the decision, but be willing to listen to their pain, to their frustration, to their anxiety without feeling the need to change the decision, or have an outplacement coach that will do this on your behalf.

**** Check out the next post for the remaining 3 keys! ****

What are your thoughts on graceful termination so far?

Do you see the benefits to the first 3 keys?

What issues do you anticipate so far?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Monica

    Excellent points! I totally agree that no one enjoys having to do this, but sometimes it is the best thing for the employee as well as the organization.

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  • icyharris

    When I left my job last year, it did feel like a punch in the stomach, but I knew it was coming. That didn’t stop me from not being prepared when it did. I think the owners were fair and gave me a nice severance. One of the things one of the owners said is that it wasn’t a good fit. In my mind, I protested. I felt, “I get along with everybody. Who do I not fit with?” It wasn’t until later reflection that i realized I just couldn’t keep up with the fast paced environment with tight deadlines. In the end, we did each other favor.

    • I know that had to be tough, but it sounds like you are on a new path now! I pray God blesses you in this.

  • Magicman

    This is a great subject series. In my early career days, I was known as the king of termination (I was basically a turn-around specialist). It was interesting that the employees who remained were astonished that I could make people go away but they were always happy (well, there was one notable exception)! The principles you present are always helpful and I used many of them without identifying them as principles.

    One of the greatest tools in employee management is ongoing, compassionate communication that starts even before the date of hire. Identifying and communicating key performance measures along with sharing the employer’s perception of how the employee is doing on a regular basis is a key to success.

    As to the legal side, it’s an important consideration. I once terminated a 62 year old, African-American lady without a ripple of heavy emotion or repercussions of any kind. It was done with due an appropriate process with regular communication and updates between us. She left knowing I and the organization cared for her and the next day, in the parking lot, she made a point of thanking me for the way it was all handled.

    Your point about resources is, in my view, absolutely critical. It tells the employee you’ve thought about them, you care about them and you really, truly want to help them have a successful transition. Thanks for a great post. – MM

    • Thanks for your comments, MM. I agree with you and believe William did a great job with this series! Thanks for reading!

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