How to Fire Employees With Empathy and Kindness

There’s nothing worse in business than firing someone.

I’m not usually the one who does it at VaynerMedia anymore since we’ve grown to so many employees, but when I did I would spend a month figuring out how to make myself feel better about it.

We’re not in the one-, two- or three-strike policy here at VaynerMedia. We actually have enormous continuity, and I think part of that is thanks to the firing policy.

People see that we try to handle things with empathy and grace.

how to fire employees

1. Try not to let the firing come as a surprise.

At VaynerMedia, we do our best to give employees as much feedback and help when they need it.

We work hard with people to try to help them achieve what they wanted to do when they came on board, or to help them find a better fit within the company. I think word of that effort gets around, and it makes people feel good about working here.

Here’s how to manage underperforming employees:

1. Take the blame.

2. Start to communicate better.

3. Ask them, “what can I do to help?”

4. And then actually start helping.

If you’re the founder or CEO of your company, everything that happens in your company is on you. If an employee is not performing, it’s super important to take a look at yourself and your processes first before blaming them.  

managing employees who are underperforming

2. Help them get another job somewhere else (where they might make more money).

Just because you had to fire someone doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not good at their craft, or that they can’t succeed at a different company.

If someone gets let go at VaynerMedia, it could be for a variety of reasons. It could be that they’re not able to keep up with the pace of our execution. They might not be good managers, but they might be great at executing.

It could just be that we made a mistake and put them in the wrong position. They might have performed poorly because they didn’t click with their boss.

I’m super willing to help my employees transition out of my company into another role where they could be successful for one main reason:

I’m more interested in how I feel about myself and what those who know me say about me as a man than the profitability of my company.

It’s why I try really hard to keep strong relationships with my employees, even after they leave or get let go. It’s why I aim to deliver 51% of the value of that relationship.

People always talk about why employees shouldn’t burn bridges with employers, but not many people talk about the reverse of that. Not many people talk about employers keeping relationships with employees even when they let them go.

It’s also just practical.

I don’t want to name names or put people on blast, but there have been situations where an employee left or got let go from VaynerMedia, ended up going to work in-house at another brand and recommended working with VaynerMedia to that company.

Keeping those relationships has led to actual business. It’s something that most companies don’t think about.

3. Be willing to work with them on the narrative in the office (so they’re not embarrassed with friends).

A lot of companies struggle with this because they care more about the short-term money instead of building a long-term relationship with the person they’re firing.

I care about my employees. I care what they say about me. And when you care about something in perpetuity, you care how it ends in the short term.

That’s why I don’t think of my relationships with employees as transactional.

I think of it as the opposite.

I actually feel a sense of responsibility for people who worked for me, which is a big reason why I’m willing to give them value even after they leave.

When someone is let go, part of what they might struggle with is the narrative that’s being told in the office. Many would still have friends at work, so it’s important to be willing to work with them on the narrative you’re telling employees within the company.

At the end of the day, I don’t think people leaving my company or getting let go is the end of our relationship.

I think it’s the beginning of a new chapter.

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