A colleague losing their job is never a fun moment. No matter if you’re the boss making the announcement or the coworker sharing the news with others, it can be challenging to adopt the right tone.
Show respect to this other human being who is suddenly out of a job. Your other colleagues will hear the words you use and hear the tone of your voice. Ideally, they should get to hear that you are just relaying the information and not being gleeful or throwing veiled threats around.
Here are the 5 most common situations in which you will have to tell someone that a colleague is fired and how to deal with them. We’ll also take a peek at 3 things you should never do no matter the reason for their firing. All apologies to our fictional Joe Smith in Accounting somewhere, any resemblance to a real person is purely coincidental.
Boss Announcing the Employee Wasn’t a Right Fit
“Joe Smith is leaving us for greener pastures. I hope you will all join me in wishing him the best of luck in his new workplace.”
Sometimes you have to let go of an employee because they are simply not the right fit. Their working style clashes with yours, they can’t carve a place for themselves, they are simply not meeting your expectations, …
As much there is no need to keep an unproductive employee around, there’s also no need to embarrass them in front of their soon-to-be ex-coworkers either.
Usually, these types of “firings” are handled with kid gloves from the very beginning. The employee learns at an evaluation that their contract will not be renewed, or they are encouraged to put in a notice themselves.
It’s already a win-win situation. The employer lets go of a worker that’s not up to their standards, and the worker doesn’t earn a stain on their CV.
Don’t mess it up by telling everyone the real reason they are leaving.
Be polite, put a smile on your face, arrange for a farewell party and/or gift, and move on to the new workday.
Boss Announcing the Employee Made a Huge Mistake
“Joe Smith is terminated, effective immediately. For further details refer to the company email that will land in your inboxes by the end of the day.”
“Joe Smith is on his 2-week notice. Please get in touch with him for your files and everything else we will need for a smooth transition.”
When you’re announcing this one, there’s no point in also announcing why they have been fired. Chances are, the rest of the office already knows it.
Still, leave it to the corporate email to state everything clearly (and provide a solid paper trail).
It’s also important to take charge of the situation and give the employees confidence that the work will continue as normal.
Also, everyone may know why Joe lost his job, but it would be impolite to further make a point of it in this setting.
Boss Announcing the Employee Was Made Redundant
“You may have heard that we are downsizing the Accounting department. Unfortunately, this means that Joe Smith will be leaving us. The loss is purely ours.”
Company downsizing and cuts are never pleasant, but they are sometimes necessary for the company to survive.
There are two problems with making this type of announcement. First, it’s not the employee’s fault this happened and there is no case that they can make to HR or there is no probation period for them to prove themselves. Their position is simply gone.
Second, the rest of the crew will start worrying. What does this mean for us? Will our jobs disappear as well?
If there is a chance that this may happen to them, you have to be open and communicate it clearly. But maybe not at this very moment since it belongs to Joe.
Remember to also show some patience, understanding, and compassion to our Joe. This is (at least in some way) a life-changing event for him and you should give him space to digest everything.
At the very least, offer to write him a spending letter of recommendation and to be his reference in the future.
A Coworker Announcing to Other Coworkers
“Joe Smith from Accounting left the company yesterday. For anything you used to get from him, please get in touch with Jane Johnson.”
The only reason you would have to announce to another coworker (especially the one in a different department) that someone is fired should be for logistic purposes.
Going beyond that (especially seeking to spread the news out) already gets into gossip territory.
Also, play coy when some is asking for details. Were they fired? Did they quit? Are they moving somewhere? These are just some of the questions that may be fired at you.
It’s probably better to leave them unanswered and say that the boss will inform everyone of relevant facts in time.
Being coy can save your hide. Some details of an employee’s dismissal have to be left in the dark sometimes for several reasons. You can get yourself in trouble with higherups if you disclose too much.
Sometimes shifty things are happening, and you can find yourself in deep murky waters.
To be on the safe side, as well as to be as polite as possible, only relay information that is relevant to everyone’s daily tasks.
A Coworker Is Feuding with the Fired Coworker
No, that was not a typo and there is no missing text. This means that you should keep quiet.
When you have a bad relationship with someone, it’s very easy to sound like you’re gloating whenever you’re passing on the bad news, especially the news that they’re fired. There’s no point in hitting someone when they’re down.
Resist the urge to comment on their firing altogether. Be ready because people will come to you for comments.
Some of them will be the ones who are “on your side”, some will be from the opposite camp, and some just want to see the sparks fly. Bow out from this show with grace.
This should also be the time for you to tone down your complaints about this person. They are gone. They can’t mess with your work environment anymore. In some way, you’ve won. It’s time to be a gracious winner and leave the conflict behind.
Scenarios to Avoid
There are ways to make bad events even worse. Even if the ex-employee was sabotaging your work or stealing your lunch all the time, these scenarios are still plain rude.
Social Media Posts
We need to have a serious talk. A lot of people have a bit of a problem with social media and oversharing. This is one of the times when it’s your time to abstain.
Dig dip into yourself and avoid sharing the news to all of your followers and (possibly) ex-coworkers friends and family who are yet to hear from them.
This is their news to share. But there is also a practical reason to resist the urge to post: you may get in trouble with your boss.
You know that your boss and/or HR check your social media accounts, right?
To make the long story short, you may end up using the wrong language or disclosing too much about your coworkers firing. This will land you in hot water faster than you can say “how many likes did that get me?”.
In some cases, someone’s firing will have to be announced through social media (usually when there is a public outcry for them to be fired in the first place).
Still, sharing that news is someone else’s job, and that someone else is better equipped to do it right.
Office gossip may be a part of work-life, but it’s one that we could do without. In this case, you should do everything to stay away, at the very least until the coworker leaves for good.
One, they probably can hear you. Or they will hear from someone else that you were gossiping. Look, this is not something you would want to happen to you if you were in their shoes.
Not only they just got fired, but now everyone is talking about it as well. Have a bit of compassion and stay away from speculation and gossip for a while.
And two, gossip is a monster you can’t control. It’s very easy for rumors to start and spread because of one “innocent” water cooler moment.
Any comment you make can grow and come back to bite you.
These things are bad enough when it’s just a simple “chat” amongst colleagues, but if you are coming in from any position of authority it’s a lot worse.
Let’s just say that a few negligent comments could easily earn you a defamation suit.
Calling In to Gossip
Office gossip happens, but you have to put some effort to start a gossip session yourself.
As someone who is already in a position of authority, there’s no excuse to seek another way to punch down.
You’ll get to revisit this event in the meetings and reports, but only to analyze why this worker had to leave and what does it mean to the company. Beyond that, it’s not your place to comment any further.
But even as a regular coworker, you have to keep your gossiping tendencies in check.
No matter what, don’t seek out your colleague to pry more details of the event.
If they want you to know and if they want to share and vent with you, they will reach out themselves. Respect their privacy.
Though that’s if you and the colleague are even somewhat close, to begin with. If you’re not, just don’t.
Katie Holmes is a senior author at everyday-courtesy.com with over 15 years of experience in marketing and psychology. As a freelance consultant, she also supports companies and executives in overcoming communication challenges. Katie is a passionate digital nomad working on her first book on the art of communication.