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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Terminating an employee is one of, if not the most stressful task for a manager
We 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.
We found a good article about terminations in the Braun Consulting’s blog. Check it out here.