It’s a conversation almost no one enjoys having: a member of your staff has fallen short ofexpectations, and you’ve decided to let that person go.
With notable exceptions—including a certain U.S. presidential candidate and former reality TV star—many employers favour a gentle, tactful approach to firing. After all, people rarely enjoy being bearers of bad news, especially the kind that can dramatically alter an individual’s life. Nonetheless, clarity and assertiveness are crucial when it comes to firing. No wonder some companies prefer to rely on independent HR consultancies for “termination assistance”!
Be fair and transparent, and maintain a documentary record.
For both legal and ethical reasons, you should establish consistent ground rules for every person you hire, including your organization’s termination policy. If you are having difficulty with an employee, raise the issues you’ve identified in one of h/er regular performance reviews, or arrange a meeting to discuss the matter. Keep a detailed documentary record at every stage of the process. If you see no improvement in the employee’s performance over time, then dismissal may become necessary.
Double-check with the HR department (if you have one).
HR can help provide information about extenuating circumstances the employee faces, or any other relevant details that could influence both your decision and the timing. An HR professional can also provide general support, and be present in the room during The Talk. (If nothing else, it sometimes helps to have company and moral support on such a weighty occasion.)
Once you’ve made a final decision, don’t delay.
It may be that you’re indecisive about firing someone, and you’d like to give that employee an opportunity to redeem h/erself. But once you’ve reached a final decision to dismiss a member of your workforce, and you know deep down that you won’t change your mind, avoid the temptation to dither. The longer a person who isn’t up to the job stays with your organization, the more harm s/he may do, and the more extra work s/he will probably generate for your other staff.
Identify a confidential venue for the conversation (like a conference room or private office), and then get on with it.
Get right to the point.
When everyone (you, the employee, and the HR professional) is seated and paying attention, announce your decision up front, followed by your reasons. You can soften the blow slightly by formulating the statement like so: “I’m afraid I have some bad news: we’ve decided to let you go, because...”
At this point, it’s possible that the employee may attempt to bargain, or become combative. You can express regret about the situation, but avoid the temptation to become defensive, hesitate, or engage in a verbal joust. You’ve made this decision because you believe it’s in the best interests of your business, and it’s final.
Address any technical questions the ex-employee has.
There may be concerns around severance, unused vacation days, or other matters you hadn’t considered yet.
Be kind. If you believe the ex-employee’s potential lies elsewhere, offer to help.
For long-term employees in particular, being fired is a traumatic experience: it can damage their self-confidence, entail the severing of personal and professional relationships, and result in loss of income and abandonment of plans. It is appropriate to show compassion for people facing such circumstances, especially when you are the proximate agent thereof.
Sometimes a staff member who shows talent and potential in certain areas just isn’t the right fit for the position s/he occupies at your business. If you simply can’t find a place for that employee in your organization, you can still offer to ask around or provide a reference.
Parting on amicable terms isn’t always a realistic possibility, but it certainly makes for more pleasant professional relationships down the road.