TERMINATING YOUR EMPLOYEES WITHOUT BEING A JERK
by Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg
We wouldn’t go so far as to say firing someone is as difficult as being fired; but terminating someone is no picnic. In instances where the termination was a long time coming, managers find some comfort knowing they did all they could to help their employee improve. Although, being “justified” does not decrease the emotional burden of taking away someone’s source of income and impacting their future employment. Here are a few things employers can avoid to make terminating an employee less awful.
Avoid These Things and Avoid Being A Jerk…
Being Unclear- From Start to Finish
Mike Kappel, a contributor for Forbes, tells employers to “be clear with the employee on two fronts – when you first hire them and if you have to fire them.” Ideally, you won’t need to terminate an employee because she is a “perfect fit” for the role; but stuff happens. Do your part to avoid a hiring mistake. Working with key stakeholders, develop a comprehensive, concise job description. Clearly outline the skill set and experience needed to be successful and how you plan to measure that success. Lastly, institute a successful onboarding program to ensure your hire’s success in their new job and within the organization.
If firing your employee is necessary, be clear through this process as well. Beating around the bush and vaguely explaining the cause for termination helps no one. Make it short, sweet, and to the point. Do not begin the conversation with small talk. Immediately alert your employee that he or she is being fired. Explain the cause for termination, citing specific unmet goals or wrong behavior. Lastly, outline the severance package and discuss how you will handle future reference calls.
Humiliating Your Employee
It might seem obvious that humiliation should not be part of any area in your organization. It’s not obvious to some. Help your employee leave with his dignity in tact. Firing an employee right after returning from lunch with his colleagues is not the way to go. Termination is completely private for personal and legal reasons. Try to do it at the end of the day, preferably after the other employees have left. And regardless of what “other leaders” are doing, do NOT discuss, mention, comment on, or share someone’s termination on Social Media. No one wants to be publicly humiliated in 140 characters or less.
Blindsiding Your Employee
No one should be surprised when handed their walking papers. If your employee is not meeting expectations, have a candid conversation and outline where he needs to improve and how you plan to help him do it. Document all conversations – especially performance discussions. Give a reasonable timeline to turn things around (document that too!) and make it clear that termination is the next step if improvements are not made. Performance reviews are another way to document progress (or a lack thereof) and outline goals for improvement. Checking past feedback makes cause clearer. In your review, identify specific unacceptable behaviors and what the employee needs to do to fix it.
Ignoring Your Legal Obligations
No matter how much you may want to, you can’t fire someone without a justifiable reason… UNLESS they’re an at-will employee. At-will employees can be terminated at any time. Contract employees, however, cannot. More specifically, they cannot be fired for any reason not linked to the contract they signed when they became an employee. Employment laws vary from state to state. To ensure you are in compliance and draft a thorough contract, speak with a local employment attorney. Here’s a great article outlining the specifics of Firing an Employee the Legal Way.
Letting the Employee Linger
Escorting someone out the door is uncomfortable and is guaranteed fodder for office gossip. Unfortunately, it’s the responsible thing to do. When the severance package and final paycheck questions are answered, immediately escort the employee to her desk to collect her personal items and “assist” her to the door. As cringe-worthy as this might feel, it is necessary to ensure the employee leaves quickly, quietly, and without any information or equipment that belongs to the company.
Ignoring the Impact on the Team
Keeping a low-performing or toxic employee can be just as detrimental as terminating one. Allowing these employees to remain on the payroll sends a very dangerous message to the rest of the staff. First, they are given license to do (and not do) whatever they want. No one’s going to do anything about it, right? Second, these lingering poor performers cause morale and motivation to plummet. Why should employees bust their humps and work hard if low performers receive the same pay and benefits?
Terminating anyone on the staff impacts everyone in direct contact with him or her. The worst thing management can do is sweep a termination under the rug and ignore the trickle-down effect it caused. Until a replacement is found, workload distribution is going to shift. Same workload, fewer people to execute. Get ahead of it. Without giving details, inform the team that someone was let go and discuss the shift in responsibilities and a workload reassignment plan.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in management for 25 minutes or 25 years, terminating an employee sucks. There is no process in place that can eliminate the sting. However, employers can lessen it by following a few simple rules.
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