Firing by E-mail

I responded to a press inquiry this week about whether firing people by e-mail is a good practice. After picking up my jaw, I responded with the following:

Any executive who fires employees by e-mail should be fired from the closest available window. It is management by cowardice, pure and simple.

There are three reasons why firing by e-mail is a bad idea:

  1. It is inhumane. Anyone losing their job, no matter how deserving, should be shown the respect and basic decency of it being done in person by someone in authority. (This is reason enough not to fire by e-mail.)
  2. It creates risk. E-mails can easily be sent to the wrong people or at the wrong time. Either error can spur employee behavior and actions that will be harmful to the company. It is rare for someone to be terminated too soon or mistakenly when done in person.
  3. It is too easy for the firer. Firing should be a last resort outside of extreme cases. Sending an e-mail allows the executive to terminate someone in the abstract rather than facing them personally. You are more likely to make the right decision if you are willing to deliver the message to their face.

Terminating employees is something every manager has to do as part of their duties. When termination is warranted, have the guts to do it in person. It is the right thing to do as a human being and as a good manager.

4 thoughts on “Firing by E-mail

  1. Wow. I can’t imagine a situation where firing my e-mail would be a good idea.

    I can think of another risk, too: E-mail can be easily, and rapidly, forwarded, and then go viral. Imagine the (well-deserved) damage to your organization’s reputation if you fired someone via e-mail and that e-mail was sent to hundreds of people, picked up and mocked by a couple of well-known bloggers, and from there even picked up by a mainstream news outlet for a story on “Is it ever OK to fire someone through e-mail?” I think you’d have a little trouble recruiting really talented people after that.

  2. Jesus. Is this really something that is happening often enough that a news outlet feels compelled to write a story about it? I vaguely recall something with a company (last year or two?) conducting layoffs this way. But I thought that was news because it was so obviously stupid. I’ve fired people and perhaps I might have thought for a brief second “wouldn’t this be easier if I could do it via long distance” but I certainly could have never lived with myself if I’d actually done so.

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