George Zimmer founded Men’s Warehouse forty years ago using a cigar box as a cash register then grew it into 1,239 stores.  You’ve most likely heard him say, “You’re going to like the way you look, I guarantee it.” He recently discovered, by email, he was being fired.

When you fire someone by email, the issue is no longer about why they were fired, but about how they were fired.  Although people like a good train wreck and want to know the sordid details of what happened, the conversation about the firing turns from why the person got fired to how the person got fired.

So if you ever employ people, here are seven reasons you should never fire anyone by email:

      1. You look like a spineless weasel – No person with any kind of heart and respect for human dignity ever wants to terminate someone. It’s a horrible thing to do, but sometimes it has to be done. Yet, how it is done turns out to be more important than why it is done. And if you fire someone by email, you cannot come up with a good enough reason to do it that way. No one wants to be fired by email; it is the most undignified way to treat anyone.
      2. You change the brand of the company – Part of any company’s brand is how they treat their employees.  At one time, I would see a Men’s Warehouse and hear George Zimmer in my head, but no longer; I see a cold corporate conglomerate. While the firing didn’t effect the company’s financial position immediately, it severely damaged the brand and that disintegrates a company over time.
      3. You create disloyalty in the company– If you fire one person by email you suddenly lose the loyalty of other employee in the organization because they will begin thinking, “If they fired so-and-so by email, they’ll fire me the same way.”
      4. You make the company vulnerable– While litigation might not happen over that particular incident, the distrust created makes others in the company start covering themselves more intensely or looking for ways to litigate. You will create an atmosphere of disrespect and mistrust with people far less engaged than if they were in a healthy, respectful environment.
      5. You create a victim– Public sentiment can shift rather quickly to defend a victim. Your reasons for firing may be okay, but your methodology of using an email makes you appear aggressive and uncaring.  Furthermore, the only person who will ever agree with you that it is okay to fire someone by email is as big of a chicken as you are.
      6. You remove your support system should you ever fail– People around you establish their levels of trust with you by the way you treat them and the way you treat others. When you treat people badly, there is little sympathy for you if something bad happens to you.
      7. You destroy your leadership value – No one wants to follow a gutless leader.  Leadership is about making hard, painful decisions with integrity and treating people with dignity. There is simply no integrity in firing someone by email.

 Firing someone by email might be easy, but it will not make you like the way you look, I guarantee it.

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