5 Steps to a Dignified Termination
Most terminated employees don't fall into the saboteur bucket. They aren't out to harm anyone. They aren't a cancer eating away at your organization. They aren't stealing from your company. They just don't fit (despite everyone's best wishes and intentions otherwise).
And yet you still have to fire them. And it hurts, literally. A study conducted at 45 hospitals across the US indicated that managers doubled their risk of heart attacks during the week after they fired someone.
Fortunately, there are ways to terminate employees and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Here are 5 steps to maintaining trust and respect during the termination process.
Communication. There must be dialogue with the employee from the start. Outline your expectations and the company's rules. If the employee is performing poorly, you need to inform him of specific performance issues, in a timely manner. In other words, you shouldn't fire an employee for poor performance if he has no idea that his performance is poor.
Keep Your Cool. Don't terminate an employee in the heat of the moment – you're just asking for a lawsuit. If you have to, suspend the person with pay. Then you can conduct a thorough investigation, obtain information from all parties involved and terminate the employee if the facts support the charge of willful misconduct or violation of rules. Make sure that "the last straw" is a solid one.
Be Prepared. Meaning: pick a neutral site, time the event carefully, and write down your thoughts beforehand. This is a stressful meeting – but by sitting down in a non-threatening conference room, on a Monday morning, and not getting tongue-tied when the employee is listing the six billion reasons why he shouldn't be fired – can make it less so.
Keep It Short and Honest. This is not a lengthy conversation. Don't start this meeting with small talk, like "how are the wife and kids?" The employee may very likely object and protest, but you need to be firm and stand your ground – stick to the facts: "The last time we had this discussion, you were suspended for three days. You were informed that if the behavior happened again, you would be terminated. Since it has happened again, today is your last day." The termination shouldn't be a surprise to the employee.
Listen. Give the employee a chance to vent. Using your "active listening" skills will take some of the wind out of his sails. Allowing him to tell his story will help him leave the company with dignity.
And finally – you may think you handled the termination well- but your employees' perception may not line up with yours. It is important to talk to your workforce to get their thoughts and feelings about how the company handled the departure (keeping in mind confidentiality issues relating to the termination). This helps prevent low morale following the "resignation" of someone well-liked within the organization and helps you gain insight for how to handle similar situations in the future.