Arguably the most challenging part of any manager’s job is terminating an employee. There is no easy was to fire someone, there is no magic bullet to make the situation more bearable, but there are a few things you, as a manager, can do to ease the process.
It is important that care and forethought go into terminating an employee. Careful planning not only helps to mitigate hurt feelings, but will also help to protect the company from potentially severe financial and legal consequences.
Do prepare in advance.
If the employee is being let go for an ongoing performance issues, there should be documentation of performance reviews, warnings, and professional improvement plans. Unless the employee is being let go for something so egregious that immediate action is required, there is no reason why the termination should come as a surprise. Being fired is unpleasant enough without feeling shocked and blind sided.
Work closely with the Human Resources Department to make sure that all possible corrective steps have been taken before making the decision to terminate an underperforming employee. Full involvement from the HR Department will help to protect you and the company should the employee decide to sue later on.
Do be honest and direct.
There is little to be gained by reliving every gory detail about the employee’s past failings, but it is important to let the employee know why this is happening. Be calm and direct, and tell the employee the reason for the separation. The temptation to sugarcoat what is happening or mince words may be strong. After all, nobody wants to be the cause of someone else’s pain. But no one should have to work to understand they are being fired. Fortunately there are plenty of universally known euphemisms (e.g. we are letting you go; we can no long keep you on) that roll off the tongue just a bit easier than “you’re fired”. Don’t sugarcoat the conversation to the point of obfuscation.
Do be prepared for questions
Chances are your employee will have some questions about the logistics. Most will want to know if there is a severance package, and for how long benefits will remain active. They might also want to know about whether job training is provided, and when they can get their belongings from their work space.
Meet with HR in advance, in necessary, to make sure you are clear on all the corporate policies regarding termination.
Don’t do it over the phone.
The first time I fired somebody I did it over the phone. She was a very low wage earner, living right on the edge of poverty, and had to travel quite a ways to get to work. I thought the kinder thing to do was to spare her the trek out to my office, thus saving her a couple bucks on gas. Bad idea. Every awkward lull in the conversation made me question whether she had hung up or the phone had been disconnected. “Are you still there” is not what someone wants to hear repeatedly while being fired. And without and cues from facial expression I had a difficult time determining her mental state. In person you can typically get a sense of what the employee is thinking, and direct the conversation to deal with these emotions.
Don’t do it on a Friday.
Despite conventional wisdom, most experts advise against firing somebody on a Friday. Monday or Tuesday morning is best. This gives them the maximum about of time to regroup and, in desired, jump right into looking for the next opportunity.
Firing someone is never easy, and for many managers it never gets easier. There is no script, as every circumstance is different, and each employee will react differently. It is possible, however, to lessen the blow by being prepared, thoughtful, and empathetic. Above all else, remember what you learned in kindergarten: treat others as you wish to be treated. Think about how you would want your manager to break the news, were the tables turned. Chances are your employee wants to be treated in that same manner.