Almost no manager relishes being in the position of having to terminate one of his or her employees. It’s sadly but often true that anger, hostility, conflict, emotional upset, tears, and/or personal recriminations will be a part of the picture. And sometimes all of them will!
Although it doesn’t have to be this way, many managers attempt to get the unpleasant task over as quickly as possible with little planning and thought as to the best and most appropriate way to handle it. The results of such an approach can be catastrophic:
Bert Reilly had had enough of Jane Johnson’s poor performance. She’d only been with the company four months but her work had shown no improvement. So he screwed up his courage and called her into the office Friday afternoon at 3:00 P.M. and told her she was out.
“But why?” Jane asked. “You never said my work was poor!”
“I talked to you a couple of times about it,” protested Bert, “and finally I just gave a lot of your work to George. And you’ve been out a lot too.”
“You know I’ve had problems arranging child care, but I told you they’re solved now.”
“But Jane, you’ve been out for that way more than anyone else on the staff!”
“They’re all men!” snapped Jane defiantly. And with that she bolted for the door.
“Take all your stuff and go then!” shot back Bert.
And with that Jane Johnson walked out of the office in front of all of her co-workers loaded down with her clock, plants, and a couple of pictures. Bert Reilly, for his part, went home and poured himself a double scotch.
What did Bert do wrong with this employee termination? Let us count the ways:
- Bert did not confer with or secure the approval of HR for the employee termination. Important issues were not reviewed or discussed.
- Bert terminated Jane on a Friday, the worst day of the week to do so.
- Bert did not give any meaningful or written feedback to Jane.
- Bert lost his cool and control of the meeting.
- Bert opened a possible sex discrimination claim by complaining about Jane’s time off for child care, which was not the stated reason for the termination. By bringing up this additional irrelevant “gripe,” Bert raised the valid question of whether he ever objected to male employees taking similar amounts of time off for other reasons.
- Jane was forced to carry out all her possessions when she left the office in front of the other employees.
Now here’s some advice for Bert Reilly and all other managers like him when it next comes time for an employee to be terminated:
- All employee terminations should be reviewed by Human Resource expertise. HR will determine if there is sufficient documentation for the termination, ensure that all company policies are followed and there is no significant inconsistency between the way the terminated employee is being treated and other employees have been treated under comparable circumstances, and make certain there is no discriminatory motive or even the appearance of discrimination regarding the employee termination.
- Terminations must be handled in person — never by e-mail, over the telephone, or by any other remote or electronic means. If possible, the employee’s manager and a member of HR should be present.
- Do not terminate an employee before his or her birthday, holidays, etc.
- Do not terminate an employee on a Friday. This allows the terminated employee to sit home and brood over the weekend.
- The employee should be told first thing in the meeting that he or she is being terminated. Forget “small talk” or other attempts to delay the inevitable.
- The reason for termination (your core message) must be explained to the employee thoroughly but concisely. It’s a good idea to show the employee written documentation of feedback he or she had previously received.
- Never throw in additional gripes about the employee that are not part of the stated reason for termination. Stay consistent with your core message.
- Maintain control over the situation. Be compassionate but firm.
- Avoid sugarcoating to spare employees feelings. Be considerate of the employee’s feelings but never bend the truth. It may come back to haunt you.
- Provide the employee an opportunity to have a say, but never allow the employee to maneuver you into rescinding or second guessing the decision.
- Provide the employee the opportunity to leave the office with as much dignity as possible.
- Always give the employee the option to collect personal effects at a later time or have them sent to him or her later. Walking out of the office in front of co-workers laden with clocks, books, plants, etc. can be an extremely humiliating experience.
Had Bert Reilly paid attention to the above checklist, the entire employee termination meeting with Jane Johnson would have gone much more smoothly. A difficult and unhappy experience would have been transformed into a constructive transition for the company in a compassionate manner which avoided possible legal problems. And for Jane Johnson, it would have provided valuable performance feedback and considerate and respectful treatment to help her on the way to her next job opportunity.
And, perhaps not insignificantly, it would have saved Bert Reilly on his liquor bill.