It’s Hard to Fire Someone

The other day I was having lunch with some old friends of mine and one of them (one of the country’s top advertising executives and creative geniuses) made a statement to the effect that one of the most difficult and trying times for an executive is when he must fire someone.

It seems that that morning my friend had to discharge a girl who had worked for his company for some time. She had played the role like a champion: tears, saying that she’d probably never be able to get another job, how much she loved the company – the whole thing. She’d really gone for an Oscar.

But, of course, the scene ended with her getting fired, all the same.

The reason she was fired was not because my friend, or his company, takes delight in firing people. On the contrary! In fact, I’ve never met a person who did not hate to have to do it. (If there are such people, I don’t want to meet them.) I know that I’ll put off a chore like that for months!

This girl was fired because she had gotten the idea someplace that the purpose of business was solely for the benefit of the employees. She had been doing her work in a half-hearted way for a long time. She came in always a little late. She was the first to sprint down the hall for the elevator at just before five every day. She pushed her lunch hour to the maximum, and the coffee breaks too. But, while she took full advantage of her privileges, when she was at her desk she didn’t give as much as she was getting.

You’ve known people like this. They want everything they can get. In fact, they feel it’s their due.

But when the shoe is on the other foot — when the employer wants his share — well, they feel put upon, picked on, pushed around.

Well, anyway, this girl had been fired. And it was the best thing that could have happened to her! In the first place, she’ll find another job. In the second place, she might — she just might — realize the truth of why she had been fired and decide not to make the same mistake again. She might decide that unless a company can earn a profit on an employee, it can’t afford to keep that employee, which is simple economics.

With the overhead (the cost of a square foot of floor space today), the person occupying that space becomes tremendously important — as a person, and as part of the earning capacity of the company.

I think you’ll agree that sometimes people get to thinking that companies have unlimited cash reserves. And that they can, and should, go right on providing jobs and paychecks whether or not a person gives fair return on that job and that paycheck.

Now, you and I both know that there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of employees who are actually on corporate relief notes — who are getting paid for much more than they’re worth. But this kind of thing has a way of balancing itself and, eventually, the boom must drop on the malingerer — the occupational malefactor. Also, it’s a proven fact that the person who does less than he’s paid to do is almost without exception an uninteresting, unintelligent, and thoroughgoing bore.

Yes… it’s a fact that one of the hardest things to do is fire someone.

And I suppose it’s just as hard for the person fired to admit that he or she “had it coming.”

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