Delivering the Hard Message: Employee Termination

We entrust the care and management of our multimillion-dollar facilities to what we hope are competent, honest, well-intended employees, but sometimes there is a gap between what we expect from them and what we get. We then experience the emotional turmoil of what to do about that gap.

Frequently, an owner or operator would rather ignore it, settling for poor performance rather than rocking the boat. The worry is that staff will walk out, leaving the owner in a bind. In our business, we speak to operators who are frequently frustrated by the fact that employees run the place their way as opposed to the way the owner wants things done.

Owner-managed facilities face a complicated dilemma. It’s easy to become friendly with staff and lose that employer/employee relationship. When that happens, providing direction and counseling becomes a challenge. Terminating someone for poor performance can be difficult for both parties.

Here are some tips to help soften the delivery of a hard message:


1. Be fair. Consider the events that have lead to your decision. Was there coaching, counseling and disciplinary actions? Did the employee know your expectations and knew he was not meeting them? Is there another lateral position in your company that this person may be right for? A termination should never come as a surprise.

2. Decide how you will handle items like the apartment, the employee’s use of a unit, benefits or bonuses, if applicable. It is best that the terminated employee has no cause to be on the property after the termination so he or she will have no reason to speak with tenants.

3. Rehearse what you are going to say and how you will say it. Try to consider the questions, feelings or responses from the person you are terminating. Bracket your hard points with good points so it is easier for the employee to accept. A statement such as, "I appreciate that you are always on time and work hard but we are not getting the results we need even after our conversation two weeks ago, so I am letting you go. I think you have a lot to offer the right employer, it’s just not us." This is easier to take than, "You’re fired!"

4. Be empathetic. Consider the financial, emotional and intellectual impact that your decision will have on the person and do what you can to make this transition easier. While you are not responsible for his future well-being, you will feel better having shown consideration in the situation.


1. Stick to your plan. Once you have made the decision, don’t change it midstream. It will only delay the inevitable and make for a very uncomfortable and troubled environment.

2. Do not demote someone. While he or she may make a great maintenance person rather than property manager, it’s best for both of you if this employee works elsewhere. A fresh start for each of you is deserved. Let the person leave with dignity intact. Sometimes a person knows a job isn’t the right fit, or that he is incapable of doing better, but no one wants to admit failure. No need to beat a dead horse by demoting him.

3. Don’t get emotional. By the time you’ve reached your decision, all of the emotional issues have been resolved. This is now a business decision. Do not let the conversation deteriorate into an emotional volley or personal attack. Keep it business-like. A termination should not take longer than five to seven minutes.


1. End on a positive note. Wish the person well (and mean it), looking him or her in the eye and shaking hands.

2. Be cautious about giving unsolicited advice. It won’t be well-received.

3. Allow the employee enough time to collect personal belongings, but no time to loiter onsite. Finally, just to be safe, change the locks.

Owners know better than anyone that these facilities are valuable investments requiring constant, vigilant attention. A termination is uncomfortable for all parties involved. However, when handled in a professional manner, the net result should prove to be positive for everyone. 

Linnea Appleby is president of PDQ Management Solutions Inc., a Sarasota, Fla.-based company that provides full-service facility management, consulting, startup services, auditing, management training and more. She is also the managing director for the Florida Self Storage Association. For information, call 941.377.3151; visit

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