How to say 'you're fired'

Real estate agent Joe Crimaldi said he had no warning before the manager at an apartment complex where he worked called him in to fire him about three years ago.

There was no discussion of his sales record, he said, only expressions of how "we don't see eye to eye" and "I don't think this is working out."

Crimaldi, who is 30 and from Naples, Fla., spoke about that painful confrontation after trying out for the second season of the TV show "The Apprentice," in which tycoon Donald Trump terminates the employment of contestants one by one.

If he landed a spot, only to hear Trump tell him "you're fired," it still would be more merciful than his true-life experience, he said. Contestants plead, argue and even cry as they try to explain why they should stick around for the next week's episode. Trump and his assistants listen and often berate them before picking a loser.

In real life, "you hear the words 'you're fired' and then you plead your case. In most cases no one lets you plead your case" first, Crimaldi said.

Personnel experts concede that this is sometimes true. Some say many managers could actually learn something from Trump's TV performance about the right way to fire an employee -- although just as many say it's not a style that should be emulated.

Concrete reasons

All agreed that when managers fire a worker, they must provide concrete reasons for the move. That doesn't always happen on "The Apprentice."

"Getting fired in the real world is nothing at all like getting fired on 'The Apprentice' unless you have supervisors who don't know what they're doing," said Mary Cheddie, a board member of the Society for Human Resource Management. "'The Apprentice' totally belittles and makes the person getting fired feel like an idiot."

Gathering employees to discuss individual performance, which "The Apprentice" does for dramatic effect, is no way to run a business, she said. That creates a "backstabbing situation" and makes a truly graceful exit impossible.

Trump's apprentices at least know what they are in for, because he is upfront about his confrontational style and the "conditions" of employment. That's a plus, according to Scott Cohen, an organizational psychologist and employment expert at Watson Wyatt & Co. in Wellesley Hills, Mass.

"The problem that we find in real life is that employees feel that they are surprised," he said. "I don't believe in coming right out and saying 'you're fired.' But I don't believe in beating around the bush with those phrases.

"Many managers are afraid to make hard decisions in real life," he said. "There is a fear of having the confrontation."

Bettina Gonzalez, another person who turned out for "The Apprentice" casting call, said she was fired without warning from her job as a preschool teacher in 2001. She said her boss didn't give her a chance to defend herself or go over performance reviews.

"She completely let me have it. How I was not responsible, yelling at me. She was standing over me," said Gonzalez, a 24-year-old Miami resident. "I just wanted to leave."

The biggest insult? She said she had to pack her things and leave that day. No severance pay.

She turned that humiliating experience to her advantage, becoming more assertive in her work life. "Now I definitely do talk more for myself," she said.

When employees are having difficulties mastering a job, successful managers sit down with them to devise a plan for improvement, experts said. The idea of terminating them would not even come up until they had had a chance to achieve those short-term goals.

"That to me is true leadership," Cohen said.

Nancy Shallow, an attorney and senior employment consultant at Mercer Human Resource Consulting LLC in Detroit, said employees who fail at one assignment should be given a second one to try to prove themselves.

"The bottom line is every week, someone is getting fired. I'm sure a lot of these people would be successful in other places," she said.

Shallow said she is not a fan of the show and doesn't follow it, but she has a pretty good idea of how it works.

"Trump is kind of a volatile personality," she said. "If someone is heated up, that's not the person who should make the decision" in real life on whether an employee stays or goes.

Still, Trump got praise as a manager from one of his victims.

"For the most part, Mr. Trump did a pretty good job of firing people," said Katrina Campins, one of the fired contestants from the show. "I think he's a great boss."

But the real estate agent had a quick caveat: "He's the first boss I ever had."