by Missional Impact


Tough Love in the Workplace

Can holding someone accountable — even to the point of firing them — be done with love and grace?

Michael Chen | a hotel executive in Southeast Asia

People may think that showing love to others means you can’t hold them to a high standard, but that is not true. In many cases, taking disciplinary action or even firing someone is the most loving thing you can do.

I often think about how God called Solomon to build the temple. The project required a stunning level of quality and attention to exact detail using only the finest materials. God expects us to give our best to the things he calls us to do. As I consider my work in the hotel industry, I keep these truths in mind. I hold myself and my staff to high standards. 


I have hired and fired a lot of people. I’m not on a mission to terminate people. Obviously, I want to give my employees chances and coach them to improve, just as I would want someone to do with me. But sometimes someone just isn’t the right fit for a position. Other times, they may have done something that clearly requires me to write them up in their personnel file. 

In these situations, I want to show care for the other person. I always try to speak calmly and give words of encouragement. Being shown the door can be the most demoralizing thing a person experiences in their life. I want to speak words of encouragement even when I am pointing out errors: “You have made mistakes, but you don’t have to let that define you. And you can learn from these mistakes.” 

Discipline is about helping people be effective. I tell people, “If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother to spend time with you going over this. I would either fire you without explanation, or I would just be passive and not intervene. Neither of those choices helps you.” 

I’ve had bosses who wanted me to terminate one of my employees, saying, “Just get rid of them.” I try not to do that. Even from a purely self-interested perspective, interviewing and onboarding takes a lot of energy and time. It’s worth trying to keep someone if they can improve. 

But sometimes, they need to go. You aren’t doing them a kindness by keeping them in a role that is not right for them. It’s better to let them go, allowing them to find a new situation where they have a stronger chance of being successful. 

People say I am different from other managers in how I approach these conversations. Although the discussions can be difficult, I’ve had ripe opportunities to share my faith as I seek to graciously engage with others. 



Michael Chen* is from Southeast Asia. He has more than 20 years of experience in senior management of four- and five-star luxury hotels across three continents. He currently works in Asia and enjoys travel and fitness training outside of work.

*Italics indicate pseudonyms.


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