It’s not easy to fire an employee who has been loyal to a company for years. It’s an awful experience for both – the one who lays off and the one being fired. It’s back-breaking to have no choice but to say the words “thank you for being with us for all those years” and have a hunch to hear that since the moment they entered the office as well.
It’s impossible to dismiss an employee without that sinking feeling. But unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil, and if you want to grow your business, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. Whether it was a policy violation or it turned out that an individual has never been right on the position, you can do it with class. There are ways to let your employees go gracefully, without pouring scorn on each other afterward.
1. Respect the Law
When we think about movie scenes portraying this situation, we see a furious boss screaming, “you are fired,” whenever something goes not the way they imagine. A moment later, the poor ex-employee, with tears in their eyes, takes all the belongings from their desk and leaves the office, never to show up again. Fortunately, it’s just a movie, and situations like that should never happen in real life.
You should always make sure that your actions are legal and adequate to the contract you’ve signed. Current employee rights demand from employers to respect them as human beings. An employer should never unexpectedly expel an individual from a workplace without a notice period. It’s illegal to fire somebody due to medical or maternity leave or discrimination. Remember always to read the contract, and be aware of the legal implications if you don’t want to end up sued.
2. Never Beat Around the Bush
Imagine the situation in which you don’t want to hurt your employee’s feelings so badly that you use sophisticated euphemisms and metaphors when you fire them. You start with the small talk about the weather and ask about the health of their mother. Finally, you are so smooth that your employee doesn’t realize that this is termination.
Never beat around the bush when you’re firing. It’s harsh, but it’s even more stressful for both sides to have a roundabout conversation before getting the gist. Be clear about the nature of your meeting from the very beginning. Make it short, and don’t waffle too much. Explicitly clarify all the technical details – the reasons for the termination, and how long their notice period is.
3. Be (Really) Helpful
If you want to maintain mutual respect between you and your employee, you should show your humane face during the termination. Be compassionate. Telling them that “you’re sorry” might be a little misplaced, but you can show them that none of you is on cloud nine at this moment.
You can provide them with real compassion and help that goes beyond empty words. Offer them that you’d write the recommendations to ease the process of finding a future job. You can also refer them to a fellow person in business or offer them a severance package. You can be sure that this kind of help would do much more than telling them the platitude of how tough is this decision.
4. Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand
When you’ve finally decided on the termination, you have to determine how you should go about it. You’re all stressed and overthink the worst-case scenarios that can occur during your meeting. Maybe your employee would break into tears? Or you’ll end up funking and never tell them why you actually wanted to meet? The most tempting solution seems to hide in your office and never meet them in person.
And that’s the worst you can do. The only graceful way to lay an employee off is to meet them face-to-face. That way, you show them respect and make space to ask questions. It’s absolutely inappropriate to leave a note or even make a phone call to say that their career in your company is over. And don’t feel tempted to make use of your HR department. Your trusted HR employee can accompany you during the meeting, but they should never tell the bad news on your behalf.
The Bottom Line
Even though it will never be pleasant, you can make the conversation at least a little more bearable for both sides. If you take the supportive approach, the outcome can be more positive than you could have imagined.
Always put yourself in your employee’s shoes and treat them as you’d like to be treated. Remind yourself of the times when you just started to climb up the career ladder. Have you ever witnessed someone getting fired? How did you feel when you were laid off? Recall the words that made you upset and the deeds that soothed this situation even to a small extent, and do the same when it’s your turn to be on the other side of the desk.