A question for the ages. Too often, employers try so hard to avoid making firing an employee feel hurtful, shocking, or sad, but all the avoidance just ends up making it worse.
So… is there a way to fire someone nicely? Well, it might not always go as smoothly as we desire, but there are a few things you can do to make it as gentle an experience as possible.
Don’t blindside them, if you can avoid it.
Set clear expectations before ever getting to the point of a termination conversation. Make sure the employee is aware of any performance or behavioral issues that are taking them down this path, and give clear objectives and guidelines of how they can resolve them, as well as when you’d need to see progress or improvement. Ultimately should you still have to let them go, this will help the employee have an understanding of the reasoning behind the decision, and prevent it from feeling “out of the blue”.
Before you start the conversation, ensure you have all the necessary information and documents ready. This might include performance reviews, documentation of any disciplinary actions, and the terms of the employee’s termination.
It is important to respect the employee’s privacy and dignity. Schedule a private meeting to have the termination conversation and make sure there are no distractions or interruptions. It’s a good idea to have a witness present or an HR rep, but you as the manager should be as prepared as possible to carry the meeting. Your teammate will want to hear from you.
Rip the bandaid.
Making it a long, drawn-out meeting won’t soften the blow. And this isn’t a TED talk that will make them happy about losing their job 30 minutes later. Terminations are typically less than 5 minutes. Things don’t need to be overexplained.
Face the music.
And by that, we mean do it face to face. If they’re remote, do a video conference call. Being fired over email is like a breakup over text. Though it may seem like a ‘safe’ approach, in actuality likely conveys a lack of value or courage to the receiving party. If in person, maybe have some tissues within reach (they don’t need to be visible, but ready to grab if needed).
When you meet with the employee, be clear and concise about the reasons for their termination. Get to the point up front and avoid using vague language or making accusations that you can’t back up. This is not the time to air any personal grievances or vent your frustrations. Instead, focus on the facts and the specific issues that led to this decision. A great way to avoid monologing or confusingly long statements is to write out what you’re going to say in advance, and practice it.
It’s also essential to remain calm and respectful throughout the conversation. This can be difficult, especially if the employee is upset or defensive, but it’s crucial to maintain your professionalism. If you’ve reached this point, the decision has been made, so no need to get into an in-depth discussion about the matter. Remember, this is not a personal attack on the employee, it’s simply a business decision. But that doesn’t mean saying the classic “this isn’t personal” is a good idea. It might ease your conscience, but fall flat on the ears of the employee who is losing their job.
Offer support and resources.
While it may be tempting to simply hand over a severance package and be done with it, consider ways you can still show value, and set up your employee for success during this transition.
One way to do this is by offering outplacement services, such as resume building or interview preparation, to help the employee as they find a new job. This can be especially helpful if the employee was terminated due to performance issues, as it gives them the opportunity to improve their skills and find a better fit elsewhere.
You should also make sure to provide the employee with any necessary documents, such as their final paycheck, unemployment information, and references (if appropriate).
Finally, consider offering some kind of severance package, even if it’s just a few weeks of pay. This can help the employee financially as they search for a new job, showing that even though you’re parting ways you are willing to help them during this difficult time.
Follow up and follow through.
After the conversation, consider following up with the employee to ensure that they have all of the necessary information and resources. This looks like offering to set up a meeting to review their final paycheck, or providing them with contact information for outplacement services.
It’s also important to follow through on any promises or commitments you made during the termination conversation. This might include providing references or offering additional support during the transition period.
Finally, make sure to document the termination process thoroughly. This includes creating a written record of the conversation, as well as any additional support or resources provided to the employee. This can help protect you and your company in the event of any legal disputes or challenges.
Hard conversations are not typically easy, and certainly not fun. If they were, we probably wouldn’t be writing this. But so often a challenging season brews new growth or opportunity. Take up the torch of being a great leader, embrace the hard conversations and do them with intention and care. Who knows, you might change someone’s life for the better.
Need to terminate an employee and not sure how to do it? Or have some correctional conversations looming? Contact one of our consultants for a coaching session.
Written by: Noah Baker
January 12, 2023
This content is for informational purposes only and shouldn’t be considered legal advice. To make sure you’re abiding by your area’s legislation, talk to an employment lawyer, speak with a local labor standards representative, or read up on termination laws in your country (including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom).
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