Speak Business English Like an American » LESSON 27 - Firing Somebody

Firing Somebody

Kurt has the difficult task of firing Dan. Dan s been with the company since the beginning and is a friend of Kurt s. Dan is surprised and upset with the news.

Kurt: Dan, your work has slipped. You've been here for 15 years, and I think you're just burned out.

Dan: What are you talking about? I'm at the top of my game. I just managed our biggest project in years.

Kurt: You can't take credit for that. You didn't lift a finger on that project. You were on vacation in Hawaii for three weeks while Steve and Sally were doing all the work.

Dan: I'm not good at reading between the lines. Please just cut to the chase. What are you trying to say?

Kurt: Dan, Swift Shoes is downsizing. This is really difficult, but we're going to have to let you go.

Dan: What? I helped build this company from the ground up! You can't fire me now.

Kurt: I don't want to, but my hands are tied. Our president has told me to reduce headcount by 50 percent.

Dan: I thought you and I were friends, but when push comes to shove, I guess our friendship isn't worth anything.

Kurt: Of course we're still friends, but business is business.

Dan: I don't agree with that. I would never fire a friend....after all those times Kathleen and I invited you and Donna to dinner at our home!

Kurt: Dan, I want you to leave Swift Shoes on friendly terms. No hard feelings. To soften the blow, we're going to give you a generous severance package.

  • one's work has slipped
    one's performance has gotten worse; one is not doing one's job properly
    EXAMPLE: What's going on with Jeremy? He used to be very good at his job, but recently his work has slipped.
  • (to be) burned out
    to be extremely tired; to lose effectiveness because of doing a job for too long
    EXAMPLE: After working 80-hour weeks at the investment bank for many years, Jim was burned out.
  • (to be) at the top of one's game
    to be performing at the top of one's abilities; to be performing very well
    EXAMPLE: Last year, Ethan brought in over $5 million in new business to the agency. He's at the top of his game.
  • (to) take credit for something
    to claim recognition for something
    EXAMPLE: Joan came up with the idea of selling the company's products at Costco, but her boss took the credit for it.
  • (to) not lift a finger
    to not help at all; to do nothing
    EXAMPLE: While everybody else was working hard to finish the project, Tim was chatting with his friend and didn't lift a finger.
  • (to) read between the lines
    to understand unclear or indirect communication; to interpret something from hints or suggestions
    EXAMPLE: Your boss told you to take a very long vacation? Read between the lines: he's suggesting you leave the company!

    ORIGIN: This expression comes from the days when people would send secret messages. When treated with a special substance like lemon juice, a secret message would appear between the lines of an ordinary looking letter. Therefore, when told to "read between the lines," you should look for the hidden meaning.

  • (to) cut to the chase
    to get to the point; to tell the most important part of the story
    EXAMPLE: I don't have time to listen to a long explanation of why you didn't finish this project on time. Please cut to the chase.

    ORIGIN: In action films, the "chase" refers to most exciting part, when the drama is at a high point. Some people may want the movie to get to this exciting part (in other words, cut to it) as soon as possible.

  • (to) let someone go
    to fire someone
    EXAMPLE: Mepstein Industries let their accountant go after he made a major mistake calculating the company's tax bill.
  • (to) build something from the ground up
    to develop a company, a business, or a department from its beginnings; to build a successful operation from scratch
    EXAMPLE: Autumn Moon Vineyards doesn't yet have a marketing department. They're going to have to build one from the ground up.
  • my hands are tied
    there's nothing I can do; I'm stuck; I have no alternatives
    EXAMPLE: I don't approve of the direction my company is moving in, but my boss doesn’t want to listen to my opinion. My hands are tied.
  • (to) reduce headcount
    to lay off or fire workers
    EXAMPLE: When Lucent's business was in trouble, they announced they would reduce headcount by at least 10,000 employees.

    NOTE: "Headcount" is the number of people who work at an organization. Many companies do not like to say that they are "laying people off' as it can sound cold and insensitive. After all, people are involved. "Reducing headcount" gets around this problem. It sounds less personal and more scientific.

    SYNONYM: to downsize

  • when push comes to shove
    when really tested; when it really counts; when there's no more time left to hesitate or think about what action to take
    EXAMPLE: Many people say they are worried about the environment, but when push comes to shove, how many people are willing to pay extra for environmentally-friendly products?

    SYNONYM: when you come right down to it

  • no hard feelings
    no anger; no bitterness
    EXAMPLE: Even though Hewlett-Packard didn't give Derek a job offer, he has no hard feelings towards them.
Practice The Idioms

Fill in the blanks, using the following idioms.

  • no hard feelings
  • work has really slipped
  • at the top of her game
  • burned out
  • reduce headcount
  • let them go
  • her hands are tied
  • build the company from the ground up

Liz is in a difficult position. Her boss has told her to (1) ___________ since the company is in financial trouble. Liz only has three em ployees: Brian, Rachel, and Pam. Brian and Rachel are doing great work, so she can't afford to (2) ___________ . Pam isn't doing so well. In fact, over the past year her (3) ___________ . It's true that Pam helped (4) ___________ and has been a very loyal employee over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, she's no longer (5) ___________ . Liz thinks Pam has simply worked too hard and is now(6) ___________ . Liz likes Pam, and would prefer not to fire her. But (7) ___________ . Liz hopes there will be (8) ___________ after she tells Pam the bad news.

Answer Key
Practice The Idioms
  1. reduce headcount
  2. let them go
  3. work has really slipped
  4. build the company from the 8. no hard feelings ground up
  5. at the top of her game
  6. burned out
  7. her hands are tied
  8. no hard feelings
Answer Key
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