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.


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