Congratulations! You’re Fired!
By Dr. Andy Edelman
letting someone go for poor performance or downsizing an entire
division because of declining company profits, the stress of firing
for all concerned can be enormous.
In fact, failing to plan and execute a sound procedure for
firing can result in needless stress and anxiety, as well as
potentially costly instances of litigation or retaliation.
Although never a pleasant process, proactive managers must
master the art of termination in order to maintain operational
performance, ethical standards and, at the same time, prevent any
potential incidents of workplace violence.
1. Hire tough, manage easy:
Steps two through ten would probably not be
necessary if recruitment, selection, training and retention efforts
helped to match the best people with your organizational values and
mission. It is far more advisable to spend the time, money and energy
on hiring the right people than it is to deal with the challenges of
managing and ultimately firing the wrong ones. This should be a
partnership effort between human resources and executive leadership to
ensure that the organization brings on board the “best and the
brightest who are willing and able.”
Spread the word: Let
each new hire know the organization’s expectations, standard
operating procedures, and consequences for any breach of conduct or
performance. It is far more difficult for a terminated employee to
escalate to violence if the end-game outcomes are shared from the very
first day of orientation training.
Plan with precision:
Managers should put a
systematic plan in place for the inevitable firing process and headed
by those with the best people skills. Every step in this process must
be planned for and should include “What if..?” contingency plans.
For example, it is ill-advised to terminate an employee on a Friday
afternoon or right before a holiday. Develop a keen understanding of
the dynamics of dealing with an individual whose source of livelihood
and personal and professional self-esteem have just been jeopardized.
Reactions by terminated employees can range from calm, resigned
acceptance and compliance to more volatile defense mechanisms such as
total denial, emotional outbursts, and in some instances physical
violence. Managers that plan for each potential scenario are far more
likely to achieve a peaceful exit interview.
Set the stage: Termination
proceedings should be held in a location free from prying eyes or a
potential audience. The room should be neutral and without
distractions (and company banners and logos which could inflame
already sensitive emotions) and should be free of any objects that
could be damaged or used as weapons. In addition, at least several
persons should be present including a designated security
representative during the exit interview to ensure accurate
documentation while maintaining a safe environment in cases of verbal
or physical escalation.
to the chase: Since
firing an employee for whatever reason is never a pleasant task, it
may seem appropriate for managers to take a while to get to the point
or dodge the issue in an attempt to be “nice.” However, it is best
to be clear, concise and upfront about the purpose of the meeting and
to summarize the reason(s) for the termination and the opportunities
for development and improvement offered which were not met. In
addition, the seemingly good intention of being nice will only cause
the terminated employee to resent you more. The longer the exit
interview lasts, the greater the likelihood of further dysfunctional
communication and potential for violence.
Show them their money:
Offer all past due salary or
monies immediately to the employee without delay or fanfare. If there
are appropriate severance pay offers, make them at this time. This
will at least take some of the sting out of the termination
Offer win-win alternatives: In
downsizing scenarios where you are forced to terminate high quality
employees, make every attempt to help them locate additional
opportunities, along with the willingness to write letters of
reference when appropriate. Organizations that make attempts to take
care of their valuable assets in good times and in bad will reap both
short and long-term benefits. You never know if or when the person you
terminate today might be your supervisor tomorrow.
Allow a graceful exit:
Unless a safety risk is
present, allow terminated employees to say their goodbyes and gather
their personal effects without a show of force. Yet at the same time,
maintain common sense security precautions to prevent unauthorized
tampering or theft of property. Be especially careful with sensitive
computer data and back up all essential files in the event that the
terminated employee decides to include sabotage as a going away
Keep the yellow light on: Have
security and all key management personnel to be vigilant for any
“return customers.” Change is difficult for all personnel and
termination is a significant event in anyone’s life. Although
adhering to termination best practices will significantly reduce the
probability of a re-escalation incident, there is always the remote
chance for the terminated employee to return unexpectedly to “settle
the score.” All organizations should exercise this healthy degree of
caution no matter how calm the person appeared during the exit
Document, document, document:
Keep timely and accurate
records at each level of the employment process including all cases of
employee counsel, warning, suspension or termination. In nearly all
cases of mediation, arbitration or litigation, the party with the best
documentation will usually prevail.
never pleasant, using these win-win termination strategies will help
to avoid potential workplace violence incidents or costly lawsuits
and, in turn, ensure that both parties can move forward in their
personal and professional lives.
Read other articles and learn more
Andrew J. Edelman.
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