Problems arise when you have to decide how to let go of an employee who has become your friend. This is not a pretty situation by any means, because it may end up costing you a friendship that you would like to keep.
If you are in a management or leadership position, there will come a time when you will have to let go of an employee who has become your friend. And it stinks… no getting around it. You will have to develop a thick ‘outer shell’ for the experience, which you may not like. However, by using some guidelines, the process will hopefully be easier on you—and possibly the employee as well. With a little luck, you may be able to save the friendship.
Take the employee/friend off into a room where you cannot be interrupted, and stay calm. Offer a drink (preferably alcoholic, but since you are at work, you probably shouldn’t), and sit down. Do not take a drink for yourself—your hands will be occupied, but the drink will give them something to occupy their hands.
Explain that the two of you need to have a talk, and bring out any documentation, such as performance reviews, that you may have to back you up. When the friend/employee hears the words “we need to have a talk,” be prepared for them to automatically become defensive.
In my opinion, workplace relationships should consist of regular reviews—whether they are quarterly, annually or based on a different time period, it doesn’t matter. Using these reviews as a method to help back you up when having to let your friend go makes the process easier—you have documentation. Reviews are summaries of an employee’s performance, and if done properly, will help you when if it is time to let go of the employee/friend. Pay increases, behavior issues, as well as timeliness, and a variety of other things.
When it comes time to actually let go of an employee who has become a friend from their job, you will have to have a good reason why. Don’t come up with an excuse—be truthful.
If there are too many employees on the payroll, and your friend happens to be one of the newest ones, and budget cuts are happening, it’s just a fact of life. They must go. Serious behavior issues are a simple (but uncomfortable) reason to get rid of your friend. For example, has it been proven that this person sexually harassed another employee? That can bring on a lawsuit that you don’t want, so be careful.
Be fair though, and listen to the employee/friend’s objections. If they offer a solution to the situation that you had not considered, tell them you will take it under advisement. Then think about it for a specific amount of time. If it still doesn’t work for you, the firing stands.
During the process of letting the employee go, above all stay calm. Don’t yell, but be firm and truthful. Make sure that you empathize with them. Letting go of an employee that has become your friend is not easy, but sometimes necessary.