First Time Firer

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’ve been in my job less than two years. I just got promoted but one of
my first duties is to fire someone who has been here ten years, but
who has been non-productive dead weight for a very long time. To top
it off he is older than me by almost twenty years, and a man. I am
trying to find a way to balance sensitivity against perceived weakness,
also to show the folks who promoted me that I can handle tough
chores. Any good approaches to what’s going to be hard to pull off
First Time Firer

Dear First Timer:
A good first line is This is going to be a difficult conversation for each
of us. It gives the bad news signal up front, but shows you take no joy
in it. Then, Given where management wants to go with the
organization, your current position is not going to continue. That’s
been a difficult decision for management to reach, but we’ve
concluded there’s no alternative. [The ultimate boss’s name] asked me
to have this conversation. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is; we’re
eliminating your job. This cuts away pretty quickly the idea that
there’s some higher court of appeal. It also implies it’s the job, not


If you get an angry response, acting out, push-back, argumentation,
then say How would you like this conversation to end? That should
settle him down. Immediately ring for the human resources person to
join you, if you have not had him/her attend from the beginning (my
suggestion). Then have the HR person talk about exit steps, forms to
fill out, medical benefits continuation, last paycheck etc.
Re the vulnerability issues related to you as a woman-manager firing a
man-employee: make sure you have a guy sitting near his intercom,
ready to come in asap if this goes south and you need physical help. I
suspect the presence of the HR person should obviate that, but if
you’re concerned, have a safety net on hand. Once you’ve done the
deed, see the recent movie Up in the Air for some bad scenes you
avoided. Final note: management isn’t easy; you’ll earn your