The Dos and Don’ts of Terminating Employees

The Dos and Don’ts of Terminating Employees

When you employ a staff of hundreds, you learn a thing or two about letting employees go. Whether the termination is based on circumstances beyond the employee’s control like downsizing or reorganization or poor performance, letting someone go is tough—on both sides. That being said…

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about terminating an employee. When handled properly, a potentially volatile situation has a better chance of being diffused and the employee leaves with dignity versus disrespect. Not to mention, you’ll feel better about the scenario and sleep better at night.

Though common and accepted practice, don’t terminate an employee on a Friday. Hopefully you’ve hired real go-getters. Friday terminations are brutal because the employee has to wait until Monday to pound the pavement. If you’ve ever been out of a job, you know the anxiety waiting even a few days can bring. Plus, why give your ex-employee extra time to stew before beginning the job hunt? The more “free” time open, the better the chance he or she turn sour about working at your company. No business wants bad blood.

Don’t beat around the bush. This only prolongs an already uncomfortable situation. Begin the conversation with the situation (downsizing, merger, performance issues, etc.) and clearly state the employee is being let go within 15-30 seconds. Also, make eye contact to show your conviction in the situation. Think of it like a bandage. Quickly rip it off or pull slowly and prolong the pain.

Take responsibility. This applies whether or not you made the termination decision. And never, ever blame other people who are not in the room. For example, you should not mention so-and-so feels and so-and-so believes. The result is a terminated employee who feels he or she didn’t get a chance to explain his or her side of the story. Make this your decision and give the employee closure.

Always have another person in the room with you. One-on-one terminations open the door for misinterpretations, etc. Invite a manager or human resource staff member to sit in, even if it’s under the guise of doing other work in the corner. If a female employee is being let go, have a female in the room. A man? Ask a male employee to join. And if you’re a woman firing a man, you definitely want a man in the room with you. People are far less likely to do things they’ll regret when they know someone is watching.

Match the terminator to the terminatee. If the employee is a manager or executive, the responsibility falls on upper management or an executive. In smaller companies, the business owner should handle it.  The person getting let go wants to hear it from the top, not a peer. Executives command this when they’re being let go due to downsizing, a merger, lack of tenure, etc. over which they had no control.

A human resources director can handle terminating customer service representatives and those who fall below management level. But he or she should follow the same rules that apply to letting management team members go. If the employee is long-term, five years or more, then he or she deserves to hear it from the business owner.

Treat people with respect. The day you enjoy firing people is the day you should do something else.

Handling employee terminations correctly can stop a volatile or uncomfortable situation in its tracks. Of course, there are employees who will respond in ways you cannot anticipate, but you don’t hire irrational people in the first place, right?