A friend of mine works for a large Christian non-profit where the CEO refuses to fire a chronic nonperformer because she believes firing isn’t Christlike. What would happen to the person being let go? What about his family? She continues giving him more time and telling other leaders to pray for him.
Does our responsibility to forgive and extend grace mean that we should never fire an employee? Terminating an employee is painful regardless of the reason, so leaders and managers may delay it or justify not doing it. But — if we ignore an employee’s shortcomings, the consequences will spread to every corner of the organization. So what does the Bible teach?
There are repeated commandments and principles in the Bible that can be applied to termination.
A Christian Approach to Firing
Act with love and compassion. Notice that there are two parts. The first takes action, and the second does it in a way that honors Christ and the other person
In Matthew 22:34–40, Jesus tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (NIV). Christ showed love each time He confronted ungodly behavior or behavior that strayed from God’s will. We see this in His interactions with the disciples, the church, and friends.
Notice that He didn’t use love as an excuse to avoid confrontation.
The same principle can apply to disruptive behavior and poor performance in the workplace. Our love for God means we include Him in all facets of our lives. We invite Him into leadership decisions and struggles and seek His wisdom. Our love for Him empowers us to carry out our leadership responsibilities with the same love that is commanded toward others in Matthew 22. When terminations are necessary, we act with love and compassion.
Be humble and put others’ needs above our own. In the NIV of Philippians 2:3 we read, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Paul cautions us against being motivated by pride or acting dishonestly.
I worked with a CEO who told a manager to fire a new employee because the young woman replied to “all” on a companywide email, one of the CEO’s pet peeves. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed terminations that shouldn’t have happened or were handled poorly. Instead, leaders should emulate humility and put the needs of others first—especially when firing someone. If an employee isn’t performing and we fail to act, we do the opposite. We avoid a difficult situation and prioritize our feelings over the best interest of the company and the person.
Most struggling employees know they aren’t working out, and the rest of the company definitely knows it. I’ve seen employees become isolated and marginalized. They lose respect from their co-workers who are forced to create workarounds to protect business outcomes or prevent errors.
Firing is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but retaining nonperformers is unfair and unkind. By not acting, we model deception instead of integrity by behaving as if an issue doesn’t exist.
Firing an Employee: Biblical Steps to Help You
- Seek wise counsel from the Holy Spirit. Examine all sides of the issue, look for patterns, give the employee a chance to correct problems, and evaluate your own responsibility in what’s happening. For example, in Exodus 32, Aaron blames the people for worshipping the golden calf, yet he contributed to their actions. Even when termination is unavoidable, we can ask God to reveal what we need to learn as leaders. There may be preventative changes we can make in the organization or ourselves.
- Keep it short. In Matthew 5:37, Jesus dismisses the practice of making oaths and insists that we simply speak the truth. “All you need to say is ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (NIV).When you’re terminating someone, don’t try to gloss over what’s happening and don’t be belabor the issue. Be direct.
- Speak the truth in love, as described in Ephesians 4:15. The more difficult the truth is for an employee to hear, the more loving and gentle we need to be. Many times, employees who are able to receive the truth during a termination will use that experience to correct problem areas or find careers that are more suitable for their skills.
- Exhibit grace and treat the person with respect and dignity. Don’t terminate an employee and then parade the person out the door in front of everyone. Plan the meeting before or after work. If within your company’s policies, provide resources to help the employee move on such as career counseling or job search assistance.
God has entrusted us with the employees we steward and the companies we work for. This responsibility is heavy and difficult, but we don’t bear it alone. We serve a God who wants us to lead as Christ led. He will give us clarity and affirmation about personnel situations and the actions we need to take as leaders.
Being Christian leaders doesn’t give us a pass when it comes to terminating employees. Instead, it informs how we do it and what we learn from it.
What have you learned when you’ve had to fire someone? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.