Getting Fired and Firing People: Things You Never Forget

Last week we were in Finland, and this week has been a good one…getting back into the groove, keeping up with responsibilities, doing what needs to be done.

Last night I had to fire someone. It was surreal, because it was done over Skype. If a person you hire just can’t get the work done and is very hard to reach, you’re a fool to continue to keep them as employees.

Firing isn’t a pleasant experience, I felt guilty even though I knew it had to happen. I remember once when I ran the cafe. I had an employee who was bad–really bad.  She just wasn’t the right fit in any way to work there.  So at the end of a shift, I approached her and said we had to talk.  At that very moment she knew, just knew, what the next words were going to be. “Oh no, no , please don’t fire me!” she said.  I hesitated a minute, almost backing down, but I had to move forward. “I”m sorry, but this is just not working out.”  That’s all I said.

I have been fired too, and it wasn’t easy. I was taken up to the sixth floor of the Press Herald building in downtown Portland Maine in 1982 and given my walking papers by an executive editor.  It was the longest and worst elevator ride I had ever taken, I was in the company of a lower level editor who had of course, had cooked my goose.  She and I both stared ahead as the elevator rose.  The conversation at the conference table was brief. It was a review, and I had failed. They weren’t willing to train me any more, that was it.

Getting sacked meant that I’d be paid for another two months–we had a good union back then. But there are many parts of me that regret leaving Portland right after that. I could have stuck around and found another gig. It’s one of the most vibrant and exciting cities I’ve ever lived in.

My wife Kathryn had a good job there and we could have stayed. But we both agreed to move back to the Valley and soon found ourselves in Greenfield painting the interior of our new apartment in exchange for rent.   I remember those days as bright ones–making $130 a week on unemployment, taking my 2-year-old daughter for walks downtown, and having plenty of money, that was enough.

I don’t wish I still worked for a daily newspaper, and maybe I have that Exec editor to thank that I got out and back to our valley from Maine.