Letting an employee go is a difficult situation most managers want to avoid, but with the right preparation and professionalism, you can get through such a tough talk with your dignity -- and your employee's -- intact.
Firing Best Practices
Another manager or HR representative should always be present, especially if terminating a potentially hostile employee or one who might twist your words or make false accusations. It is also best to include a balance of genders, says Lissa Weimelt, principal with The Hiring Experts, a retained executive search firm.
The best place to terminate is a private office or meeting room close to an exit -- there is nothing worse than an upset employee having to traipse through a workplace to find his way out.
Out of respect for and fairness to the employee, terminate as early in the workweek and day as possible. In addition, bring tissues and water as well as the phone number for an employee assistance program representative, if available, says Scott Cawood, PhD, president of ModernThink, an employee management consulting firm.
"If you let someone work all day, then they are giving to the company, and other employees will see this as disrespectful that you let them give all day long, or all week long, then fired them at the last possible moment," says Cawood, author of Destination Profit: Creating People-Profit Opportunities in Your Organization. "Fire them early and pay them for the day, but let them leave right after the meeting.
There are logistical issues to work out, too. Cawood once had to terminate an employee who used a company car. How will that employee get home? Finally, have any necessary paperwork or documents ready to avoid scrambling for them as the employee tries to leave.
What to Say and How to Say It
When the time comes, it's best to just get down to business, says Pamela Holland, author of Help! Was That a Career Limiting Move? and chief operating officer of Brody Communications. "The termination discussion should be as brief as possible," she says. "Your tone should be calm and assertive."
According to Weimelt, ex-employees often criticize former employers for giving vague reasons for termination. "Being prepared, staying calm and speaking respectfully is critical to a termination procedure," she says. "Many employees actually know when they are not doing a good job. If the termination itself is handled well, an ex-employee is less likely to blame the employer for being fired."
Managers should know that saying too much can get them into legal hot water, says Weimelt. Therefore, it's important to make a prepared, written statement that can be placed in the employee's personnel file, such as:
John, after reviewing your work performance for the last two months, we concluded that this job is not a good fit for your skills. Because of that, today is your last day. We thank you for working with us on a smooth transition. You will have time to gather your personal items, and we will assist you.
Cawood says it's important to get to the point quickly. "You should let someone know the real deal within three minutes of the start of the meeting," he says. "Don't worry about breaking the ice. There is nothing you can do that will make the message pleasurable."
After You Drop the Bomb
According to Weimelt, employees may have a variety of questions, including:
- Can you give me an example of what I did wrong?
- Will I get a reference from you?
- Can I file for unemployment?
- Are you going to tell other employees I am fired?
- Do I get any severance?
The best policy overall is to avoid being backed into the specifics trap and refer any questions regarding company policy to HR.
Managers need to keep sight of the bigger picture. "The important thing to remember is that your role as a manager is to ensure that certain deliverables are being met in keeping with the company's strategic direction," says Holland. "When someone fails to do that in his or her job, either because of lack of ability or bad judgment, you must draw strength in the fact that by terminating that person, you are fulfilling your obligations and doing the right thing."
It's also important to remember that your delivery can help soften the blow. "There is never an easy way to share hard information," says Cawood. "You can, however, be sensitive to the employee's need to process the data, be upset and avoid being embarrassed."