For anyone that has ever had employees, eventually the day will come when you have to fire an employee. Often seen as cruel or unjust, in reality, it’s often a freeing experience for both the manager and the employee.
Typically, this day comes several months — even years — later than it should. Management indecision is the No. 1 reason a company keeps an employee longer than it should. This form of indecision by managers has several negative effects, including the erosion of the confidence of co-workers and subordinates, and the prolonging of the inevitable termination.
Terminations are a by-product of either a poor hiring decision by the company or underperformance by the employee. If the company made a bad hiring decision, the company needs to own up to its decision. If the employee isn’t doing the job properly, most likely they know it and realize they are the “dead man walking” around the company.
Often people have told me that they don’t know how to terminate an employee. I’ve found that following the following three step process is the simplest and the most compassionate for all parties involved.
Step 1: Pre-Termination
- Know why you are letting the person go, i.e. performance, head count reduction, etc.
- Be honest with yourself if you hired the person; what was your contribution to them not succeeding at your workplace?
- Make the decision “final” and be committed to the decision.
- Take the employees emotions and feelings into account and try to anticipate how will they react? Psychologists tell us that there are five stages that people go through in this “grief cycle.” Shock, Resistance (often manifested as anger), Acceptance (of the current situation), Exploration (of new opportunities), and Commitment (to a new future)
Step 2: The Termination Process
- Privacy is key. An office with a door closed is preferred.
- Never terminate someone alone, always have another trusted party in the room.
- Be kind, while being firm; there is no turning back. Be as honest as you can, while still keeping consistent with the situation. The relationship is over and it’s time for the employee and the company to move on in separate directions.
- Give your reasons for the termination clearly and succinctly, but do not get into a discussion about justifying your reasons. Be aware of legal ramifications of your statements.
- Don’t allow the former employee to access his work area or coworkers after termination.
- Don’t allow the employee to access information systems.
- Don’t end the meeting on a low note. Sometimes the terminated employee begins the grief cycle in front of you, help them focus on a better tomorrow.
- Don’t fire an employee without a checklist in hand.
Here are some things you might say to the employee during that final, emotion-packed meeting:
“This just wasn’t the right job for you. Perhaps in a different situation, you’ll do quite well. Maybe you can even use another set of skills you have. For example, you’re really good at planning, and this job required a bias for action and getting things done fast, which aren’t your strong suits.
“You’re well thought of in many parts of the company, and you have many good traits you can be proud of. It’s just that your overall performance, as we’ve discussed in previous meetings, wasn’t what we needed.”
“If you can focus on the fact that this just wasn’t the right job for you, I think you’ll recover faster and keep your career on track.”
“We have discussed my expectations about your performance and unfortunately they are still not being met. It now really saddens me (or whatever your feelings are) that I will have to terminate your employment.”
Step 3: Post Termination
- Have a post termination plan for workflow, passwords, human resources, etc.
- Telling the remaining staff. Let the other staff members privately, one-on-one, if you can.The second best option is to call the staff together for a meeting where they have time to vent or ask questions. Some of them maybe asking, “Am I next?” Whatever way you use to tell the staff, never put down the terminated employee.
“While Jon’s performance was acceptable in some areas, there were other goals and expectations that were difficult for him. We worked hard with him during the past several months to find another way out of this situation, but it just wasn’t possible.”
“We’re sorry we had to take this action for economic reasons, and we’re providing all the support we can to help her find a new position.”
To terminate someone with compassion requires a lot of courage. To be able to set someone on a new career path may be painful for all parties in the moment, it is the right thing to do.