“We’re Letting You Go.” Best Practices

Termination of Employment

“I want to see other people.”

“We’re letting you go.”

Words like those above can be very difficult to say. Knowing you need to say them can create anxiety, especially if you do not have a great deal of experience delivering these sorts of messages.

Severing relationships, whether personal or professional, is never easy. In these uncertain times, many employers and managers are struggling with laying off or furloughing employees.

Numerous businesses – anywhere between startup or large publicly-traded corporations – are currently faced with having to make reductions in the area of human resources. For many “people managers” and leaders, the idea of having to separate employees is keeping them up at night. Especially, those who have not been put in this position before.

I have a friend who recently had to lay off a group of employees. The entire week leading up to the notification he felt sick, couldn’t sleep and felt little support or direction from his organization. These people had been on his team for years. They knew each other’s families, spent time on the road together at trade shows and conferences. They were friends.

He came to me for advice. He was struggling with how to communicate to his team in a way that protected the company but also gave credence to the contributions they had made and preserved personal relationships he had built with these people over the years.

My first response to him? “You’re not alone.” There are countless numbers of leaders who are faced with the same struggles. I also made sure to note that when separations are handled poorly there are consequences; to the business, the brand, the effectiveness and respect of leaders, engagement of remaining employees … and the list goes on.

Many organizations have not had the foresight or bandwidth to equip leaders with best practices for separating employees. It is important managers know how to do so with decorum in order to protect both the reputation of the company as well as the dignity of the impacted employee. In addition, it is also necessary to take into account the remaining employees and help them understand and deal with the changes so they can feel secure and remain productive.

With that in mind, here is a quick list of some separation basics:


  • Have a plan. Think about logistics. Where, when, who will be involved, what will the message be to the impacted employee, to your remaining employees?
  • Have a script, rehearse it and STICK TO IT. Keep it short and simple and respectful.
  • Understand the legal requirements and have a separation checklist. Understand what resources are available to you and how to utilize them for the best possible outcomes, including internal stakeholders, legal counsel, Human Resources. Also understand the external resources available, such as your benefits providers, EAPs and outplacement partners.
  • Keep your personal emotions in check. Understand and deal with your own thoughts and feelings before having the conversation.
  • Invite them to have a seat and get right to the point. Anticipate a range of responses and emotions and how you will respond to each while keeping the message consistent. Allow the employee to express feelings.
  • Have an HR/Security Plan for reactions that don’t go well.
  • Listen to employee’s response. Silence can sometimes be the most supportive reaction.. Offer a tissue or glass of water.
  • Stay in control of yourself and the situation.
  • Be supportive and neutral with a controlled even tone.


  • Don’t make it personal. Don’t make apologies or promises, defend, justify or argue.
  • Don’t minimize the situation or personalize the anger that an impacted individual may express.
  • Don’t deviate from the message or use platitudes like “I know how you feel” or “you’re going to be just fine.”

Separations are NEVER easy, however, there are steps and best practices you can employ to reduce your personal stress, maintain the dignity of the impacted employee, protect your brand/reputation and keep your remaining team members engaged.

Jill Seeley, Vice President, Talent Management Services at Newland Associates, a Career Partners International Firm (CPI)
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