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.

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