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    Terminations

    Keys to Employee Engagement: 9. Commitment

    So far, in this series, we’ve talked about ensuring employees have a clear idea of what is expected of them and helping them realize that by providing them the tools to do the job right.  Employees can be inspired by the company’s mission, which can give them a strong sense of purpose.

    I’ve seen several organizations where the majority of employees are excited about coming to work every day but a few slackers were enough to bring down the mood in the office.  It can be hard to sustain your motivation if your co-workers undermine all the good work you do by not caring.

    So the ninth question in Gallup’s Q12 explores this, posing, “Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?”

    Commitment, Recruiter, HeadhunterGallup suggests this commitment by fellow workers, along with four other measures is correlated with productivity.  When employees, overall, feel their fellow employees share their commitment to the organization, the productivity of the organization increases.

    (The other four measures were: “I know what is expected of me”, “My opinions are valued”, “ I believe in the company’s mission” and “Overall satisfaction”.)

    Imagine how it must feel for someone who takes pride in their work and who does an excellent job to hand off their work to someone who drops the ball or is careless how they do their part of the task or project.  Similarly, you’ll find in many companies employees who have to correct others’ mistakes or sloppiness so they can hand off to the next operation.  They must feel constantly frustrated.

    From a customer’s point of view, shoddy workmanship usually shows up in defective materials.  They have to call in the sales rep to assess the scope of the problem, segregate defective materials and work out some form of compensation as well as paperwork to return the defective goods.  In a worst case scenario, the customer may have to shut down their line and lay off people – then ask for even more compensation for lost work and possibly lost business.

    What can you do about this?

    One of the easiest ways to start addressing this is by going out on the shop floor (or office) and talk to the employees one on one to work your way through the process to identify which employee(s) are contributing to the situation.

    Improving the calibre of their work may simply be a matter of training them or providing the proper tools to do their task right. It might mean modifying the process (by automation, for example) to remove the human element from affecting the outcome.

    If the root cause of the problem is attitude, that is a much harder issue to deal with.  It may mean terminating employees.  In some cases, not getting rid of employees who don’t care about their jobs can be seen by employees as weak management or a demonstration that management doesn’t care or lacks commitment to the company’s mission.  You can risk losing your best employees in this type of situation.  So, sometimes terminating bad employees have a positive overall effect on morale and productivity.

    Getting out on the shop floor is one way to demonstrate to employees that management cares about what’s happening in the plant. Speaking with them one on one is one way to show that management cares about employees’ opinions.  Correcting problems in the plant shows employees that management can not only act on their input, but also walk the talk.  In other words, they have enough commitment to the company’s mission to make things work.

    Talk is cheap. Action gets results.

    Aftermath

    You’ve just terminated one of your employees. Now what?

    In some respects, the termination meeting is the quickest part of the process: there’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done.

    As you disengage from the dismissed employee, there still are plenty of items to take care of – not only for the dismissed employee, but for other remaining employees and people outside your organization.

    ABusinessman after TerminationDMINISTRATIVE ACTIVITIES

    Your HR department will need to complete a Record of Employment (ROE), which the employee will need to qualify for unemployment benefits.  This states when the employee started and when they were terminated as well as the reason for termination.  By law, this must be provided to the employee no later than 5 days after the termination and there are strict penalties for employers who fail to file an ROE – $2,000 fine or up to 6 months imprisonment – so don’t skip this step!

    Payroll will need to do a final reconciliation on wages, commissions (if applicable), vacation allowance, benefits and withholding taxes. Also, you should prepare a T4 for the employee and provide that to the him/her, while also filing with CRA.  Should you have to pay out a settlement to the employee as a result of a negotiated claim, you also need to ensure this is properly recorded on the T4 and declared to CRA.

    If the company has a pension plan, the pension administrator will need to provide a T2033 E form so the employee can either take the pension entitlement as a lump sum in cash or transfer it to a Locked-in RRSP.  If the employee has sufficient service to be fully vested in the pension plan, the employee may opt to receive a company pension.  This makes sense when the termination is due to a layoff.

    Most insurance carriers allow employees to continue to participate in a health, dental and/or life insurance plan (though at a higher premium than they might have been paying as an employee). so you should have something from your carrier that outlines what options the employee has.  COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act ) exists in the US to enable employees to maintain health coverage while they are in transition.

    Some employees may have been entitled to company equipment, such as a company car, phone, laptop/computer etc.  Usually, the smaller items can be recovered while the employee collects his/her personal effects. 

    Of these, company-owned vehicles are probably the most difficult to recover – especially if the employee works outside the office.  Since employees will use such vehicles as their primary mode of transport to and from work, if the employee works out of your main office, we suggest you have someone drive them home or arrange for (and pay for) a taxi to take them home.  If the employee vehicle is away from your main office, contact your leasing company to determine how they wish to handle the return of the vehicle.

    WORKING WITH AN OUTPLACEMENT COUNSELLOR

    If you are using an outplacement counsellor, that person should be provided complete details on the employee’s exit package so the counsellor can go through it with the employee.  You can also have someone from Human Resources sit in to help ensure all the employee’s questions can be answered.

    This will allow the counsellor to explain the things that are probably topmost in the employee’s mind at this point: will I be paid? How much will I receive?, What happens to my benefits? How do I qualify for unemployment?

    The counsellor is specially trained to assist the employee in handling the emotional impact of dismissal – whether it be grief or anger.  Very few executives have such training or experience.

    If you have agree to offer the employee an outplacement program as part of their severance package, the outplacement counsellor can explain to the employee what their options are and how to participate in the program.  Most outplacement programs are modular and include such things as assessments, resume writing, networking and other job search skills. Often the program has some flexibility, so the counsellor can outline the options the employee can take – perhaps more resume support or interview coaching than the standard program – so the employee gets a program that matches his/her needs while also coming within the budget the employer has allowed for. 

    The outplacement counsellor will most likely suggest the employee take some time to review the company’s settlement proposal and suggest he/she have it reviewed by a lawyer to ensure it the employee’s rights have been addressed and to assess the fairness of the offer.  Having a lawyer review the agreement is one of the employee’s fundamental rights: they do not have to immediately sign back on the company’s offer.

    DAMAGE CONTROL

    When one person is terminated, the office rumour mill will churn.

    “Is this the first of many?”   “Will I be next?”  “What did Joe do?”

    As soon as possible after the termination meeting, you should immediately have a staff meeting with those who need to know. Tell the staff briefly what happened and why so you can clear the air.

    It’s important, once you have concluded the termination meeting, that you post an announcement so the entire office staff are informed of the employee’s departure and so that normal business routine is maintained. This actually is something you should have prepared in advance so you don’t lose time while trying to compose something.  We recommend you do so using neutral language, otherwise the employee could have grounds to sue for defamation.  Common phrases used are “… has left the company to pursue other interests” or “… has resigned from his/her position”.  This allows the departing employee to save face with his/her peers while informing office staff the employee will no longer be part of the team.

    The announcement should also specify how the functions of the employee should be handled internally.  If the employee held a supervisory role, specify who the employee’s direct reports will report to.  If you have a replacement selected, you can announce that.

    Remember to brief your receptionist on what to say to outside personnel who call in asking for the terminated employee. He or she is the first contact most people outside your organization will encounter when they call or visit your office.

    If the employee liaised with a number of people in other companies, it may be worth making a personal visit – or at the very least, a phone call – to each client, customer or partner to ensure continuity and to explain whom they should communicate with inside your company. If you have appointed a replacement/successor, then it is even more important to accompany them to meet with external contacts to help introduce them and pass the relationship on to them.

    Consider having an auto-response email set up to inform people outside the organization that the employee they’ve sent an email to is no longer with the company.  That’ll be much better than having incoming emails to that employee bounce and can be set up in advance so it can be activated during the termination meeting.

    CLEAN-UP

    Usually, it’s best to have a staff member accompany the employee while he/she collects personal items from their office.  This is to safeguard against an employee removing company documents or damaging company property.  If the employee is especially trustworthy and professional, and the termination is more of a layoff than dismissal, you may want to consider allowing them to clean out their office without supervision.  This shows trust in the employee and it will be noticed by other employees.

    If the employee is comfortable with it, clean-up can be done immediately after the termination meeting.  If the employee is concerned about image and/or privacy, make arrangements for the employee to come back in after hours, but ensure you have a staff member on hand to provide them access to the office and to supervise the collection and packing of personal items.

    CONCLUSION

    If you follow the guidelines we’ve presented here, you’ll be treating your employees fairly and significantly reducing your risk of being sued for wrongful dismissal.  You’ll be helping your former employees move on so they can concentrate on finding their next opportunity.  if the dismissed employee was a trouble-maker of under-performer, you might even see an improvement in morale among the remaining employees.

     

    In this series, so far, we’ve discussed the process of terminating an employee in a professional manner.  What if you’re thinking of leaving your current employer on your own volition?

    There also is a professional way to quit, and we discuss that in the December issue of our newsletter, GRAY MATTERS.  If you’d like to receive a copy, go to our CONTACT page and complete the form there.

    The Termination Meeting

    SETTING the STAGE

    The first thing you must do is to get the employee to the room where you will deliver the news that the employee will be terminated.

    This can be done, for example, by sending someone to the employee to ask you to come to an urgent meeting with you.  This is much better than personally confronting the employee in an angry tone and asking him or her to accompany you to an office (or worse – your office)

    Let’s start by showing you how NOT  to conduct a termination meeting, using a clip from Up in the Air” , a 2011 movie starring George Clooney as an outplacement consultant who travels the globe, to illustrate. 

    Note how the meeting is being conducted via videoconference, not in person. The employee being terminated is in a room by himself. What’s worse is the people leading the termination are actually in the next room.  This is an example of a very impersonal, callous way to terminate an employee.

    Ms Keener doesn’t get to the point of the meeting(though we’re sure the employee knows) by leading off with saying we’re here to talk about your options. Her conversation doesn’t seem natural and the stilted delivery probably makes things even worse for the employee.

    HAVE WITNESSES

    Last week (and as above), we suggested you do the termination in person.  However, that does not mean you should do it alone.

    We strongly suggest you have a third party attend the meeting to serve as an Observer.

    This could be another employee who is at least one of your peers or it could be someone from Human Resources.

    The Observer’s primary role is to serve as a third party who can substantiate the flow of the termination meeting should the termination result in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit. Underlying this, the Observer’s role is to verify the termination is done without prejudice or malice and that the employee’s rights and privacy were respected.

    BE DIRECT

    When you are ready to deliver the news, think about how you would want the news to be delivered if you were on the receiving end.  Empathy for the employee’s situation will significantly reduce the stress for the employee – and for you as well.

    It’s best to get right to the point and tell the employee at the outset that they are being terminated.

    Usually, employees anticipate when they are about to lose their jobs, so, when they meet with you, they are waiting for the news to be delivered, and the longer it takes to hear the news, the more stressful the meeting becomes for them.

    The best approach is to start out with something like, “ Good Morning, John/Jane.  I’m afraid I have some band news to share with you.  We have to let you go effective today.”

    You should then describe the reasons for the dismissal.  If it’s an economic decision, explain how the company has been faring.  If it’s dismissal for cause, you must re-iterate the steps the company has taken with the employee to improve his/her behaviour and that this is the final alternative.

    At this point, it’s important to convey that the decision has been made and is non-negotiable.

    DISENGAGE

    The whole meeting should last only 5 – 10 minutes and, once you’ve asserted the company’s decision is final, you should prepare to leave the room.

    Before doing so, you should stand up, shake the employee’s hand, look them in the eye and thank them for their service/contribution to the company and wish them well in their new endeavours.

    DO NOT say things like “You should have no trouble finding another job”.  Not only can this backfire in a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit, it can sound dismissive of the employee and the emotional impact of the termination.

    The best – and easiest – way to disengage is to have an outplacement consultant on hand who can either be brought into the meeting room or who could be waiting in an adjacent private office.

    “I know this is a lot to absorb, so we’ve brought in John Smith from Outplacement Experts to help take you through the rest of the process.”

    Here’s another clip from “Up in the Air”.  Watch how diplomatically Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, handles a hostile employee.

    Note how calm Bingham remains throughout the meeting. We think this helps him maintain control over the flow of the meeting and turn a negative situation into something constructive.

    He makes a significant step in turning the meeting to a more positive tone by demonstrating that, although he is not an employee of the company terminating the employee, he has researched the background of the individual and identifies something the employee is passionate about.  The meeting takes a more positive tone as Clooney’s character suggests the termination represents an opportunity for the employee to pursue something he IS passionate about.

    You also see in this clip, how Clooney’s associate fails to engage the employee because her language is stilted and formal and comes across as academic instead of empathetic.

    Because the Clooney character is a consultant brought in to do the firing, he also is prepared for the follow-up (you see this in other clips) and has a package prepared for the employee to review.  

    NEXT STEPS

    Normally, a termination is done one-on-one.  A possible exception is when you are laying off large numbers of people, in which case you can bring an entire group (e.g., a shift crew) together to present the news.  You’ll have to be prepared for an emotional backlash driven by group dynamics, in which case it’s important to remain calm to maintain control over the meeting.  It’s probably a good idea to have breakout sessions immediately afterward – ideally one-on-one or at least small groups – so the employees can meet with someone from Human Resources who can answer their questions, guide them through their packages and provide some emotional support.  In a layoff situation, it’s less about employee performance and more about company performance that has resulted in the layoffs.  Be honest about prospects for a recall or how long the layoff might last.  If the outlook is bleak, say so, and advise the employees to actively seek alternative employment so they don’t waste time by hoping for a recall and foregoing a job search while they exhaust their unemployment benefits.

    The preparation remains the same; the execution is modified for the numbers involved and the situation. 

    So far, we’ve shown you how to prepare for a termination and how to present this to an employee.

    Next week, we’ll take you through the aftermath, to show you some of the things that must be done under regulation as well as some things that go beyond what is required under law.

    A Professional Approach to Termination

    Terminating an employee is one of, if not the most stressful task for a manager

    Businessman after TerminationWe all have to face the fact that some day we are likely to be terminated – whether it’s for performance, company financial distress or relocation – so, when we must terminate an employee, it helps to think how we would like to be treated when it comes out turn.

    Most employees have some sense their job is in jeopardy before they are fired.  Despite this, the act of being terminated often leaves them feeling humiliated, anxiety-ridden and immediately powerless.

    Whether they saw it coming or not, the three main concerns in the mind of someone you are firing often tend to be related to the following areas:

    • How do I leave the job site with some semblance of self-respect, and with the information and materials I may need to help me in my job search?
    • What will I tell my significant other/family/friends etc.?
    • How will I afford to stay afloat now that I’m unemployed?

    Here are some guidelines to help you conduct terminations in a thoroughly professional manner.

    Prepare your case

    If the reason for termination is performance-related, please ensure you have done written performance appraisals on at least an annual basis so areas of deficiency are properly documented.  Also have some documentation on the steps you and the employee have agreed to to address these areas of deficiency and the progress achieved.

    Choose a good time

    A good rule of thumb to follow is to not dismiss an employee on a Friday or immediately before a holiday.

    Once the employee has shared the news of their termination with their loved ones, they’ll need access to a support network: a lawyer to review the company’s proposed settlement, friends to talk to about job prospects, the unemployment office to apply for benefits.

    Termination immediately before a period when business is not conducted (as in just before a weekend) deprives the employee access to the supports and increases their stress level while they await an opportunity to move on.

    There are many schools of thought on the best times to conduct a termination. We believe early in the week is much better than later in the week; morning is preferable to afternoon.

    Do it in person

    At the senior level, terminating an executive is not something to be delegated to HR or someone else.  Have the courage to face the employee and tell them their services are no longer required, and provide a reasonable explanation why.

    Do NOT terminate an employee by e-mail or phone call.  It may be convenient for you as a manager, but it comes across to employees as distant and impersonal

    Don’t do it alone

    Have a colleague with you for the termination meeting.  This could be someone from Human Resources or someone who is at least a peer of the person you are terminating.

    This can help ensure you are properly following company policy, and provides an additional set of ears to hear what is being said and by whom.  If the person is from HR, they can assist the employee at the conclusion of the termination meeting to clarify the next steps, how company benefits will be handled, how to apply for unemployment benefits etc.

    Concluding the meeting

    At the conclusion, shake hands with the employee and wish them the best in their job search.  Again, it signals respect for the employee because you demonstrated the courage to face them with the bad news.

    After the Meeting

    After the termination meeting, leave the room immediately.

    However, this is also the time when the employee feels most vulnerable and without support.

    Having an outplacement consultant on hand to come in at this point can have a powerful positive effect on the whole scenario.

    You’re indicating you’ve anticipated the employee’s concerns about job search and that the company is doing something to support the employee in this regard.

    The consultant, who usually is trained in crisis management, also can serve as a sounding board for the employee, so they can express their emotions as well as assisting them in collecting their personal effects and making a graceful departure from the company premises.  Keeping the atmosphere calm is also important because it reduces the stress on remaining employees, many of whom could be wondering if their turn is coming next.

    The outplacement consultant is not someone who will defend the employee.

    Having company security escort a dismissed employee off the premises should be a last resort.  It comes across as heavy-handed, which will have a negative impact on morale and most employees, when terminated, are too devastated to destroy company property.  Security DOES make sense if the employee is being terminated for cause or has a history of destructive behaviour.

     

    Our next post will take you through the termination meeting.

     

    Other resources

    We found a good article about terminations in the Braun Consulting’s blog.  Check it out here.