The appropriate way to let an employee go

Sooner or later, most managers must face up to the task of firing someone. Though it is never easy, this guide will help you handle this odious task when you must do it.

Sooner or later, most managers must face up to the task of firing someone. Here’s some career advice that will help you handle this odious task when you must do it. But it is never easy.

Recognize, firing someone is a distasteful and painful experience for everyone concerned. People get hurt. Lives are disrupted; livelihoods are threatened. Egos are devastated. There are costs to employees and employer alike. Therefore, it goes without saying: firings ought to be avoided if at all possible.

A step toward this goal will be accomplished if every manager will conduct regular performance appraisals with each employee he or she directly supervises. If these sessions are open and candid, the boss and the employee will be able to see problems as they begin to emerge and correct them before real damage is done.

Both parties should sit down together. The positives should be identified and praised. Problems should be defined and a plan of action to correct them agreed upon. This is a fair process which clearly puts both parties on notice that things are not as they should be; they must get better; if they don’t, dismissal is a definite possibility. Surprise, one of the cardinal sins of management will be avoided.

If the employee’s performance does not meet the agreed-upon goals for improvements in critical areas, and there are no acceptable reasons for the failure, the manager has to be firm and dismiss the erring man or woman. To do otherwise is to lose credibility as a manager and do damage to the organization.

Common Sense Guidelines

Be very sensitive to timing, as I have already indicated.

Deliver the bad news in a face-to-face meeting. There can be no delegation of this responsibility. It may be desirable to have one other person present, especially if the meeting might end in a heated confrontation. But no more than one additional person should be involved in the ordeal, or else it may appear that a kangaroo court is in session.

The meeting should be conducted in a strict, arms-length business-like manner. Reasons for the action should be spelled out in detail, including a review of the evaluation process. Empathy should be expressed. However, resist being overly generous in praise for the employee’s contributions. Such expressions may be translated into some unfounded hope that the decision can be reversed. Also, in this litigious age, praise may be taken out of context for legal action by a disgruntled employee.

Terms of severance – pay and benefits – should be detailed. If the circumstances allow it, an offer may be made to provide help in getting another job.

Then, the employee should be given an opportunity to have his say. This can be a very tedious time. Because of the high emotions on both sides, an angry shouting match can develop. Or the employee may simply be in a state of shock. The manager should maintain his calmness, avoid arguments.

Agree on the timing and nature of announcement of the employee’s departure. It is wise to announce the termination as soon as possible because the rumor mill will be grinding within minutes. Other employees are bound to be somewhat apprehensive.

It may see heartless at the time, but it is better to have an employee leave the premises within a very short time. The clear-out-your-desk and be-gone-by-noon approach is unduly harsh. However, no good is done for anyone if the dismissed employee stays around for any length of time. The water for all will be poisoned by gossip and recriminations.

Believe it or not, while never welcomed, most firings – if they are justified by sound personnel and economic reasons – can have some positive results if both parties work at making the best of a bad situation.

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