Termination – plan a dignified exit for terminated employees
The first time he fired someone, one manager explained, it took him two hours and the process was excruciatingly painful for both himself and the affected employee. Over time, he got “so good” at firing employees that somewhere between the time they entered his office and walked across to take a chair, they were fired. “We brought you in to discuss some difficult matters. We know you are not happy here, that you are not happy with your performance … We are not happy with it either, and feel you can do better elsewhere. So today we are going to part company and we are going to wish you good luck. Here is a severance check and a letter of recommendation we want you to have, along with what we owe you. We want you to take the rest of the day off on us, and here are twenty bucks so you can treat yourself to a nice lunch.” What goes around comes around, and this same manager reports that when it was his time to be fired he found “the box” on his desk. Everyone knew the dreaded box was given to dismissed employees to fill it with their personal belongings. This manager did not have the courtesy of facing his supervisor, he received a phone call seconds after entering his office: “See that box on your desk? Get your belongings, report to payroll … We’ll give you a ride home.” And if you think that was tasteless, it seems someone can always top your story. I recently read about a host of people being dismissed, well …, via E-mail!
The words firing and dignity hardly belong together. Nevertheless, there are a few principles we can keep in mind that will help preserve a certain amount of dignity to that employee we are ready to let go.
Employee termination has been referred to as workplace death penalty. Perhaps a better analogy is that of workplace divorce. Like in divorce, the parties involved can choose to be combative or cordial. While it is a mistake to take any analogy too far, there are other aspects of marriage that merit comparison: both parties share some responsibility for having chosen each other, and for making the relationship grow and succeed afterward.
Persons who suffer job loss may go through some predictable emotional stages that may include lowered self-esteem, despair, shame, anger, and feelings of rejection. The greater the positive feelings the employee held towards the supervisor, farm enterprise or job itself; and the longer the period of employment within the operation, the more poignant these feelings may be felt now.
Let us narrow down this termination situation to one where no single act (e.g., the employee has been caught hitting a cow with a pipe, or has been consistently late) has been the cause for dismissal, nor is this a layoff case. Rather, over time it has become clear through a multitude of events that the employee is not a match for the job. While these other situations can borrow some of the suggestions offered here, there are some important differences.
Before stepping forward to discuss the details of the termination interview, we need to assume that the decision has already been made with much care; that it will not be a surprise to the worker (it is critical that the employee have previously received an explicit written notice that his or her termination is being considered); that appropriate and well documented disciplinary, counseling and coaching measures have already taken place; and that you are working with the help of a qualified labor attorney (there are a host of legal questions to be answered at every step).
Despite all efforts, then, it has become clear that the employee ought to be terminated. So, how and when does one best face the employee to deliver the bad news? A few decisions need to be made before actually meeting with the employee. This is one of those situations where there is no substitute for total preparation.
Pre-meeting decisions and preparation
Privacy. A major concern of people who are terminated, is the fear of what will be said about them behind their back. It is a good policy to reassure workers that except for the management team involved in the termination, or others on a need-to-know basis, that the issue will not be discussed with employees.
Management must encourage personnel who have questions to speak directly with the employee. It is sometimes hard to resist the temptation of broadcasting management’s side of the story. Employees who remain with the firm will reason that the confidentiality and dignity afforded to a co-worker is but a reflection of how they themselves may be treated in the future. The principle that “your good name is safe in my lips” needs to be followed.
Furthermore, many employers agree to only discuss data such as length of employment, pay level, and job title with potential employers. The terminated worker can likewise be asked not to discuss the issue with others in the community or workplace, but reassured that it is his or her decision to make.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.