Complete the Head & Heart Leader Scale™ and receive a free, personalised report here.

Got a Minute?

Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 159 – My small business has two employees and I need to let one go. Help?

No. 159 – My small business has two employees and I need to let one go. Help?

Share this aticle

12 June 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: letting go a long-term employee, a manager holding a grudge after a bad review and a rude coworker going through issues at home.

I’m a small business owner with a dilemma. I have only two employees, and one has been with us a little longer than the other. I’m experiencing a significant downturn and have been avoiding the inevitable of having to let someone go, hoping work will pick up, as letting someone go feels very personal. I feel it is probably time for the person with the longer employment to move on and get experience elsewhere, but as they are quite entrenched, I worry it will be difficult for them to see this. Any advice?

It is never easy to let someone go but the sooner you are honest with this person, the better.

I would explain the brutal facts: the business simply can’t support the two roles in the team, and as a result, you will no longer be needing her role. They will ask about the other person so have your reasons clear about why this role needs to go and not the other one. Try to focus on the role rather than the individual. I would acknowledge this must be a shock but reinforce how much you have valued their work and want to support their future career. If you plan to give a reference to any potential future employer, I would mention that too.

These conversations are never easy, and the person may become upset, angry or shocked. Whatever happens, you just need to remain calm, fact-based and supportive as they work through what you are saying. Also have as much information with you as possible. For example, when do you want them to finish? If they want to finish earlier than that, can they? And will you pay them out? What are their financial entitlements? They might ask whether they are entitled to a redundancy (they are not since you have less than 15 employees), so have all that information on hand. Good luck.

I am stuck in a rut with my manager. We always got on very well until another team member raised an anonymous and detailed complaint about her, and she received a negative 360 review. I suspect she believes I’m behind the complaint. She told me I need to look for a new job because I have been in the team too long but does not cite performance issues. Apart from her, I love the job and as I’m close to retirement have no desire to find a new one.

Your manager sounds incredibly difficult to work with, and it is a shame she didn’t treat the feedback in the 360 review as it is intended, which is as a personal development tool. It is also incredibly poor form to be trying to hunt down anyone who puts in a complaint.

You probably know already you could raise this within your organisation since her behaviour is completely unacceptable. But I get the sense you just want to bide your time until retirement, which I also understand. If that is the case, there really isn’t much that will change this manager’s behaviour. It sounds like her boss needs to be dealing with this much more actively than they are and so you might want to consider letting them know what is going on.

An older woman at work has taken a dislike to me but also regularly requires my assistance on projects. She is mostly discourteous, condescending and thankless in all communication with me. I have been told “this is just how she is” and that she is going through home life troubles, but that is no excuse. Dealing with her is starting to cause me a great deal of stress, and next time this happens I would like to address her attitude. Can I do so without risk?

Unfortunately, nothing is without risk, but you can reduce the risk by making sure you conduct your part of the conversation respectfully. Next time it happens, I would ask, with genuine curiosity, whether she has any feedback for you on how she finds working with you. Open the door and see what she says. She may have some feedback for you, in which case, great. If she asks what you think, you could say something like, “I have noticed you sometimes seem frustrated with me and I just wanted to understand what might be going on and how we can work through that?” The key is to stay curious and make sure you don’t get defensive.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

Share this aticle
Got a Minute

Ask a Question

You can submit your own question anonymously.

Read Got a Minute

Every Wednesday since 2021, Kirstin has written a hugely popular column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age answering curly questions from readers on work, leadership and careers. 

Latest Got a Minute

Stay in touch

Join many thousands around the world who have subscribed to Dr Kirstin Ferguson’s free weekly newsletter, Impact Loop.

As a bonus, you will receive the introduction to her award-winning and bestselling book, Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership, to download for free.
©2023 Kirstin Ferguson Pty Ltd
Privacy Policy