How to Be Fired Gracefully

Your boss calls you into his/her office, closes the door, and says, "...we're not happy with your performance on this job, so we're terminating your employment. Go clean out your desk and report to HR for your exit interview and final paycheck." What is the best way to deal with this situation while maintaining your dignity?


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    Take a minute (or five) to get over the shock and get your brain working again. Breathe. If you feel like crying, go ahead - it won't change the situation but it will help you cope better if you can unload the emotion.
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    Think about this in the right way. Your first impulse might be to assume you're a bad employee, a bad person or a complete failure, but this is just the panic talking. Instead say to yourself, "I've been in a job that wasn't a good match for me." This is important -- it's not the job that's at fault, and it's not you who's at fault -- it's the combination of you and the job that didn't work out. So don't feel ashamed. There are a million reasons for jobs don't work out, and none of them is 100% your fault.
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    Avoid trying to reverse the decision. You may be tempted to ask for one more chance, but you should resist that urge. The decision has been made and is almost always irreversible. Pleading only weakens your negotiating power.
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    Negotiate the terms of your separation. Your employer wants it to go smoothly so as not to acquire a reputation for cruelty. So here are some of the things you should ask for:
    • Agree with the employer how they will respond when someone calls them for a reference. The safest option is for them just to say, "Yes, he was employed here during these dates and our policy is not to discuss performance."
    • Ask for a generous separation package. Ask for all your remaining vacation and sick time in cash, and ask for as much separation pay as you think you can get - between one and three months worth. You probably won't get as much as you ask for, but it's a good starting point for negotiation.
    • Ask for the employer to continue insurance policies for some period. You're entitled to COBRA, but it's expensive, and it's much better if you can continue for a while with your employer's contribution.
    • Ask for help in finding a new job. Some employers will hook you up with an "outplacement" firm who will help you look for a new job. If they don't, ask "Can you suggest any companies that are hiring people for this kind of position?" They may be well connected.
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    Leave with dignity. Don't wait until the end of the day -- go clean out your desk and leave immediately. If people stop by to say goodbye, thank them kindly, but don't roam the halls telling people what happened to you. Never ever badmouth your boss or the company -- burning bridges will come back to haunt you.
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    Tell your family immediately. Even if you're feeling shocked and ashamed, tell your family what happened and discuss how you should handle it as a family. Though they'll be shocked and dismayed, in the long run this will reduce the amount of anxiety as you start to react together.
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    Give yourself healing time. You're going to be tempted to get out and start looking for new work on the next day, but you need to give yourself time to process what just happened, to wash the shame and panic out of your system, and to start thinking clearly. So set a definite period of a week or two and concentrate on taking care of yourself and your family.
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    Realize that it's not the end of the road. While difficult to do, you have to stop thinking of the termination as the end of something, and start thinking of it as a change of course that might lead you to a better situation. It's definitely not fun, but it might turn into an opportunity.


  • Take time to decide if you want to continue in the same field or if you want to try something else.
  • Your phone will probably ring constantly for a few days with all of your friends and former co-workers calling to check on you. Resist the urge to talk to everyone. Send word by a friend that you are doing well and taking time to decompress and you will call people back in a few days, weeks, months, whatever.
  • Verify that you will not be held to a non-compete or other contract and that you are free to seek employment anywhere. If they try to hold you to a non-compete or contract you should be given a severance package.
  • Be responsible. When you get home, cancel anything not necessary and try to budget what money you have. Have a financial plan and you will be less stressed and less likely to jump at the first job offered to you.
  • Some severance packages have nasty little terms: you can't speak of the reasons for your termination, you can't discuss the terms of your severance, you can't speak negatively of the company or the management, you can't work for a competitor or share details of the company with them, just to name a few. If you violate the terms of your severance they can withdraw it or sue you. Keep quiet and don't discuss anything to be on the safe side.
  • Get all the company's commitments in writing.
  • Typically, you will not be allowed to access your computer or files after being told you're fired. Therefore, (since you're presumably reading this before you get fired) today, when you go to work, and regularly as long as you're working for someone else:
    • Email to your personal (non-work) email address anything on your work computer that you'd want after being let go: personal emails, work samples, your coworker's cookie recipe, whatever. Don't send them out from your work account; access your personal account and use that.
    • Make copies of anything in the files you'd want after being fired (work samples, Rolodex contacts, etc.) and bring them home.


  • Resist the urge to call your former co-workers and complain about the company or management.
  • Don't go home, pack a bag and get out of town. Running away from your problems only makes things worse, not only that but a newcomer to a different city's job without a good reason (e.g. job transfer, family members job transferred, natural disaster, layoff, etc.) is a red flag to all employers. Instead get into action by updating your resume and posting it to places like and work any contacts you have about possible jobs.

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Categories: Job Loss and Change | Business Etiquette