The Advisor’s Corner – Is there a right way to FIRE an employee?

Is there a right way to FIRE an employee?Question:

Is there a right way to FIRE an employee?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

Unfortunately, on average, we still have a 50 percent or more failure rate in hiring. This means we are as likely as not going to find ourselves in this unpleasant situation.

Aside from legal, union, or other contractual considerations that you must take into account, there are 5 KEY ACTIONS that will help keep you out of a heap of trouble:

  • Be Truthful – Employees should know exactly why they are being released from their job. Tell the truth. Most good employers have due process procedures and policies that need to be honored and communicated. Don’t leave the person to make assumptions, create more resentment than is necessary, or increase the odds of creating bad will. Remember, poor performance is poor performance, gross misconduct is gross misconduct, and a layoff is a layoff. So what is it and why?
  • Be Fair – This is a baseline rule. Fairness is a fundamental human expectation, at least in this country. It’s also a major factor in how the employee and others on your team feel when he or she exits the organization. Was the employee treated fairly? If you did everything you should have done to help this person be successful, and they didn’t cut it, then sleep easy. If you have been compassionate in your layoff package, then sleep easy. If not, then you have more work to do before you go to sleep.
  • Be Clear – Whenever possible, employees should have had a discussion with you in which they either hear 1) their job is on the line due to performance and exactly why, or 2) if it’s downsizing, be clear about that. If the termination is due to gross misconduct like stealing, tell it like it is. Get to the point, then stand up, offer your hand, wish them well, and walk them to the door. If the employee becomes despondent and is crying or is in a difficult emotional state, give them time to get themselves together; don’t fill this time with conversation about the decision. Just be kind, be human.
  • Be Respectful – Being fair is essential, as we’ve already noted. You can be fair and not be respectful. Being respectful is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. Regardless of the circumstances leading to the termination, be professional and courteous. This is not a time to say that you told them so, or how much better things will be without them. Nor is it the time to make yourself feel better about your decision by belittling them or minimizing their contributions. Have your meeting at a time during which the employee will have little or no exposure to their colleagues and avoid having them led out of the building during business hours. Being terminated is a terrible experience, even when it is fair, done respectfully, and deserved. Always take the high road.
  • Be Smart – There are emotional aspects of the termination discussion and there are other factors to consider. Might this employee become volatile? Do you need security precautions? Should HR be present in the room? Do you have your exit checklist – e.g. keys, access, passwords, equipment, credit cards, etcetera? Your organization needs a solid termination process to follow to keep everyone out of legal and any other kind of trouble.

At the end of the day, it’s the emotions that wear you down. You should not fire someone on your own. Enlist HR, a lawyer, or other team members to help you stay clear and focused. It is important to feel what you feel and acknowledge those feelings. We’re all human. It is just as important to make sure you do not let your feelings about one person or the anticipated pain of the firing conversation get in the way of doing what is right for everyone else.

About the Author

Leadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.

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