A friend of mine who owns a business had to fire an employee. Shortly thereafter, she sent me an email and suggested I write a column about how employees should act after being fired.

People get fired. Sometimes they knew the decision was coming, but other times, they feel blindsided. I’m guessing the latter group knew things weren’t going well, but were in denial.

Regardless, your boss pulls you into her office and gives you the news. In some situations, the exiting employee is given the message, but will be employed for some additional length of time—perhaps two weeks or a month. In many cases, especially when something egregious has been done, the day the news is delivered is the employee’s last day. What sort of egregious actions? Generally, it can be something like stealing or sexual harassment or just plain lying about something to the boss.

So the boss delivers the message. How should the employee respond?

Regardless of how he feels, now is the time to put on his game face. Be gracious. He can ask questions if he needs to know details, but yelling, crying, cursing and the like have no place in this conversation. Accept that the boss has thought about this and, unless the boss is the owner of the company, has probably consulted others before making the decision and delivering the news. So leave gracefully.

How do you share the news with your family, colleagues and friends? My advice is always to take the high road. You may be disappointed or angry, but now is not the time to throw the organization or your boss under the bus. Unless you plan to look for employment in a totally new industry outside of your geographic area, your responses will be out there for all to hear. So again, keep your game face on. You might tell some close family members what happened, but broadcasting what happened to the world is not in your best interest. Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to be able to prevent themselves from going in the opposite direction. And then they wonder why they have trouble landing the next position.

I have a friend who was a top person in a U.S. subsidiary of a multinational company. His unit didn’t make their numbers one year, something my friend had been telling the parent organization for months would happen due to a competitor’s new product. When year-end numbers rolled around and targets were not met, my friend was told to fire two of his top folks. He refused, as they had done nothing to earn being fired. In response, my friend was fired.

He took the high road. He didn’t bad mouth the company. “It’s just business,” he said. Because he was professional about it, he landed a better job.

The people I know who have taken a different path have struggled to land their next gig. And when they did, it generally wasn’t a better job. Their bitterness in interviews had to have been apparent. Most of us can’t hide frustration and unhappiness throughout an interview process, regardless of how stellar our credentials are.

If you are fired—and it’s happened to many wonderful people I have known—do the right thing. If you do, life will turn out OK. But if not, don’t be surprised if you are looking for your next job months after being let go. There’s a reason.

Get our FredBiz Newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

Load comments