“We’re Going to Have to Let You Go”

Of all the things you can hear at work, I think that the most disheartening is this phrase: “we’re going to have to let you go.” You’ll notice that they don’t say “you’re fired,” it’s just that they have to “let you go”—as if you’ve been caught by mistake in a fishing net, and now you have to be released back into the wild.

It wouldn’t be such a bad way to leave a job if only someone would tell you what was really behind this ‘letting you go’ thing. Does it actually mean ‘you’re fired’, or not? Does it mean that your work was substandard and no one ever said anything to you about it? Could it mean that your skills aren’t what they should be? Does it mean that all of your good work thus far counts for nothing? If so, what would be so wrong in sharing that information before it gets to the “we’re going to have to let you go” stage?

Here’s the thing: when you don’t know what or if you’ve done wrong, you don’t know how to fix it so that it won’t happen again. You don’t know if someone has complained about you or if they didn’t like your attitude or work ethic, etc. It is just uncomfortable not knowing the real reason why you were “let go.”

Perhaps the powers that be feel that the term “let go” is somehow kinder and less hurtful than a flat “you’re fired.” Whether you are let go or fired, the result is still the same–you are suddenly without a job. That’s bad enough, but worse than that is when the person to whom you report seems to have disappeared on your ‘letting go’ day. Why couldn’t that person simply meet with you for five minutes and tell you the truth about why you are being let go? That would be professional, respectful, and would bring a dignified end to your employment–and leave you remembering your time there favorably.

Hearing “we’re going to have to let you go” blindsides you. Had there been a six month or yearly evaluation of your work performance, you’d have heard if you weren’t doing your job. You would be prepared to step up and do better. But when the end comes without warning, it leaves you feeling unsettled and full of questions  that will never be answered. All those who have suddenly heard “we’re going to have to let you go” will always wonder why it happened.

For all those who are in a position to explain the ubiquitous “we’re going to have to let you go” dismissal, I would respectfully suggest an honest evaluation of past work; what worked and what went south. To do less is unprofessional and reflects unfavorably on the company.





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