Certainly, we've all been feeling it either directly or indirectly. Terminations press on as the economy continues to struggle and the workforce shrinks further. And because it is so widespread a situation, managers and HR people on the terminating side of the proverbial table are left having to repeat one of the worst and most dreaded workplace conversations of all time. And while it's true that "practice makes perfect," letting someone go is hardly something that will be met with enthusiasm no matter how valuable the learning that practice affords.
However unpleasant or not, these are the conversations at work that there is no getting away from. So, whether you have to fire 1 or 100 employees, the key is to get the dynamics right in your own mind first. That involves understanding, appreciating and seeing the situation from the other person's perspective, rather than your own. Then depending on how you look at it, you may come to realize that firing someone for performance-related issues is easier than a no-fault layoff, not because it is a chance to make someone feel bad for underperforming, but rather because it is an opportunity to free someone from a position in which he or she is failing. That's a gift, because if an employee is not succeeding, it is in no one's best interest to keep him or her there, pinned to a job to languish instead of excel. It's not good for the person and it's not good for the organization. Beyond that, to present it in this light also makes the difference between a positive outcome and debilitating effect.
A layoff on the other hand is much more difficult because there is nothing really to talk about, meaning that there is no conversation to develop around the individual and what might be some better options for him or her. So without that dialogue to lean back on, all you can really say is that you're sorry and that it is not personal, but rather the result of how the organizational cookie crumbled. There are an infinite number of variables at play in job cuts and it is helpful to those being eliminated to reinforce that it was not their fault.
In the end, whether you have to cut or fire an employee, giving him or her the truth, while not easy, is actually the most humane and giving thing you can do. Keep it short, simple, direct and compassionate. People appreciate it, maybe not necessarily in that moment, but later, when they can see what you did for them.