The No Tears Guide to Letting Someone Go

Having to terminate an employee is never fun. Even if you’ve had to execute this task hundreds of times over the course of your career, it never gets easier. Everyone understands how devastating and humiliating it can be to lose a job and, as a leader, you must find a way to handle the dismissal in the best way possible.

Come Prepared

Nothing is worse than a manager who is wishy-washy. Go over the employee’s track record ahead of time to confirm the employee’s performance merits dismissal. Ideally, you would have met with the employee previously and given them the proper warnings and a chance to rise to your expectations (think: three-strike policy). Regardless, the employee is going to want a clear answer to why he or she is being let go, and you need to provide a compelling reason.

Before the meeting, get all your ducks in a row regarding termination policies. Be prepared to settle the questions whirling in your employee’s mind: When will he get his last paycheck? Is she entitled to a severance package? What’s the timeframe for clearing out his desk? Before you draw up a termination contract, double check policies to ensure accuracy.

Set the Scene

It should go without saying, but terminating someone in a public setting is the ultimate faux pas. You’re not making an example of someone; you’re making the rest of your team dislike you. Find a private room in the office and shut the door. Silence the phones and computers. The time of day you call the meeting doesn’t matter. Honestly, there’s no “best” time to dismiss an employee. Ideally, get it done as soon as possible since delaying the inevitable makes an already hard situation worse. Once you start the meeting, cut to the chase. Small talk isn’t going to soften the blow. Aim for a considerate tone, but avoid sounding emotional during the conversation.

The Right Way Versus the Wrong Way

There are two ways most termination conversations can go. If a manager does it the wrong way, you’re likely to have the employee react in one of two ways: tears or yelling. Take the following two scenarios:

Wrong Way

Sylvia is called into a meeting where she has to sit and wait for fifteen minutes while you finish a personal phone call. You try the direct approach and tell her she’s dismissed effective immediately. You don’t give her much feedback on her performance and direct her to HR about her final paycheck and insurance benefits. You usher her out of your office in less than ten minutes.

What went wrong here? Sylvia is likely to feel humiliated over the abrupt dismissal. She is confused over what went wrong and will have no idea how to plan out her next move.

Right Way

You have had consistent contact with Sylvia prior to the meeting about her performance. You’ve offered guidance on how to help her succeed in her role. After multiple attempts at trying to resolve the situation, you and Sylvia both realize the position and company isn’t the right fit for her. When you call her into a meeting to let her go, she’s not surprised. You give her all of the details about her termination and ask for her to sign a termination contract after she takes the time to look it over.

In this scenario, you have let Sylvia go compassionately and professionally. She can use this experience to excel in her future endeavors. Your reputation as a fair and considerate manager stays well intact.

Inform the Masses

Avoid causing a workplace-wide panic by being transparent with the rest of your staff. You don’t have to give your team all the details about the dismissal but offer reassurance that the termination wasn’t the first in a string of firings.

Firing an employee is hands down the hardest part of being in a leadership position. At the end of the day, reassure yourself that the termination is necessary to avoid ultimately hurting the company.

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