When you have an employee who needs to go, you might feel tempted to leave a resignation letter template lying on the copier. While that might work in some cases, passive-aggressive strategies rarely leave employees feeling good about their departures.
Just like ending a business partnership, ending an employment agreement can be painful. No one enjoys firing an employee who genuinely wants to do well. Letting people go doesn’t just cut off their income — fired employees also suffer blows to their egos that can take months, even years, to heal. Handle the situation poorly, and you could do unnecessary emotional damage to a person whose only crime was failing to live up to your expectations.
Everyone deserves respect, honesty, and a chance to do better before the axe falls. If you’ve given an employee the opportunity to change, but the situation hasn’t improved, don’t move forward until you understand how to make the parting as painless as possible.
These rules only apply to employees terminated for bad fit and other innocuous reasons. If you have an employee who commits an egregious act, such as sexual harassment at work, conduct as swift and by-the-books firing as you can. Don’t hesitate when an employee endangers co-workers’ morale or physical safety.
For everyone else, use these tips to end employment on good terms:
1. Plan a time and place.
Procrastination only makes the moment of truth more difficult. When you decide to fire an employee, immediately start filling out the paperwork, and choose a time and place to have the conversation.
Experts disagree on the best day to fire people, but your employee will be upset, no matter which day you select. Even though Friday firings make life easier on HR, aim for the middle of the week to help your employee get a head start on his or her next steps. By severing ties before the weekend, you can give your employee the chance to contact potential employers or apply for unemployment before the weekend, when the offices will be closed.
2. Talk to HR, and review your records.
You provided multiple chances to improve. Don’t wave this information in your employee’s face, but do keep it in his or her file in case things get messy. Get HR involved before you conduct the meeting to tie up any loose ends.
Fired employees feel bad enough, so don’t treat your HR rep like a referee who can recite the rulebook by heart. Preparing for hostility will only increase the likelihood of hot tempers. Instead, bring in a member of HR to allow your fired employee to ask questions about what comes next.
3. Be critically honest, not brutally honest.
If you must defend your decision, frame the situation as a bad fit, not a personal failing. Never utter the phrase “This isn’t personal.” Getting fired is a highly personal experience for anyone, and you’ll disrespect your employee if you attempt to downplay the emotions involved. (That’s not to mention that this can feel patronizing, which is the last thing you want in a termination discussion.)
Communicate your decision as quickly and simply as possible. If you try to explain all the reasons before you drop the hammer, your employee will become increasingly uneasy and may even guess the reason for the meeting. Share the news without any room for misinterpretation. Compassion has a place in this process, but don’t let your desire to comfort your employee allow you to misrepresent your decision.
4. End on a high note.
If you can’t provide a glowing recommendation, don’t offer one, but do help your employee see the silver lining. Once you explain the reason for your decision, have the HR representative in the room offer to talk to the employee about things like unemployment payments. Move slowly — this is an emotional event, and your employee might not be ready to process all the details.
Offer to suggest potential fits with other companies if you believe the employee would succeed in a different environment. Again, keep details sparse. You can send an email with a list of potential landing spots later. For the purposes of the first conversation, the offer is enough.
5. Inform your team.
When your former employee leaves, quickly gather your team to share the news. Tell people you made the decision to let the person go. You don’t need to get more specific than that, but if employees have questions, answer them with the well-being and confidentiality of the fired employee in mind. Members of your team might continue to have a relationship with the fired employee outside work, so the employee may get to hear the other side of the story at some point.
Morale will drop for a while, but don’t force people to be cheery. Tell the team you’ve begun to search for a replacement, thank them for working hard, and encourage them to come to you if they have questions. Some team members may benefit from a reminder that firings never come by surprise, with the exception of egregious offenses. Knowing that you’ll work with them on their shortcomings can allay a lot of building fears.
The person you fired probably won’t invite you to go golfing next weekend, but if you follow these tips and maintain a respectful attitude, your employee will leave the company feeling wounded yet hopeful. Get it right, and your employee will think back on this time as a learning experience with a caring mentor instead of a painful memory.