You’ve decided that your employee has to go. As bad as the employee’s performance might be, now is the time to think carefully about “how” not the “why”. Unless he or she presents a major risk, do not rush into the termination. Before you show them to the door, take some time to review the situation and ask yourself some important questions.
What is the real reason you are firing the employee?
From recruiting to training and supervising, you’ve invested time, energy and money into this employee. At some point they were a vital part of your team. So ask yourself: How long has there been a problem? Was there a trigger? Other than the employee’s own issues, are there other root causes for the problem? Before moving forward with the termination, look at the employee’s global performance and place it in context. By asking these additional questions, you may be able to salvage the employer/employee relationship. And if you can’t do that, you may identify a problem in your business that you need to address before it becomes an issue with other employees.
Let’s consider an employee who has a bad attitude. Maybe his performance has changed since getting a new supervisor. Is there an issue with that supervisor’s leadership style? Does the supervisor need some coaching? Is there possibly something wrong happening between the employee and the supervisor that you need to investigate? Would this supervisor hamper your efforts at recruiting and retention? You may want to look closely at the supervisor even if you believe that the employee can’t go back to his prior good performance. If you still want to go through with the termination, think through what factors led to the employee’s earlier success. This information will be helpful to communicate to the employee as part of your termination plan.
Do you have a termination plan?
No one wants to get fired, so termination meetings are always tough. Bad feelings can turn into the fired employee bad mouthing the company or making accusations of illegality. The chances of these consequences increase when you let go of an employee “for cause.” Be prepared by carefully planning what you are going to say, and when and how you are going to say it. “When” is just as important a consideration as well as where it will happen. A private location at the least disruptive time should be selected. An essential part of your plan should be a second person as a witness, and you should discuss the plan with that person in advance. Your employee termination plan should also include:
• Advance preparation of all the relevant compensation and benefits payments and explanations as required by law.
• A clear, concise statement of the reason for termination.
• An exit strategy – will you ask them to leave on the spot or stay for a transition period? Plan accordingly.
• Any severance package should be in writing and compliant with applicable laws.
• Your policy about references and recommendations – know what you are prepared to do to assist your employee with finding new employment.
• How you plan to handle communicating the information about the termination to the rest of your employee team (hint, never tell them in advance).
Most importantly, no matter how strongly the case has been made for termination, plan on being empathetic. After all, this employee is a person who is losing their job. Unless it is completely unwarranted, take some time to prepare useful feedback about performance bad and good – something that could help him or her with their next job. Your employee’s personal situation should not prevent you from following through on the termination. However, thinking through the issues in advance will prepare you should personal issues come up during the meeting.
How will you conduct the termination?
In a recent article in Inc., Marcel Schwantes identifies four important rules for communicating with a problem employee.
• Stay calm cool and objective
• Use repetition in a calm and assertive voice to stay focused and drill home the point
• Never apologize
• Acknowledge criticism but resist counter-attacking
This advice applies particularly during a termination. You should be clear on what you are going to say, allow your employee to respond, but do not prolong the process. This is not the beginning a dialogue with this employee. You have already done the work to be certain of your decisions, and a drawn out conversation will simply escalate negative feelings.
Have you planned the critical next steps?
The actual firing is not the end of the termination process. There are additional steps to take that should be part of your plan. You should debrief your colleague and write down any notes about the meeting. You have to make sure to secure your business from your former employee by shutting down email accounts and being certain to collect key cards and other means of access. And, you should return any paperwork to your now-former employee’s file so that there is no chance of losing a critical piece of information. Included in the file should be a draft of any communication you plan to make on behalf of the employee in response to new employer inquiries.
Finally, follow through on your plan to communicate with your other employees. For the employees who will be picking up the responsibilities of the terminated employee, have a one-on-one meeting. No matter how brief the meeting may be, you need to set and review expectations. This will not only make the transition easier, it can also serve as a way to maintain positive communication with the remaining staff members For the rest of your employees, who are not directly affected, you are the best judge of how to handle the transition. Model professional behavior by keeping your comments neutral and discreet. Nothing can be more poisonous to a work environment than each employee knowing how badly they will be spoken of after they leave. If you’ve identified changes that needed to be made, now is the time to implement them. Honoring those changes will help prevent the creation of a new “bad apple” and keep them from spoiling the bunch.
Firing a problem employee is ultimately not that different from any termination. However, you have advance warning that this person will present a challenge, so you have a chance to prepare. With a good plan, you should be able to make the process smoothly for your employee, yourself, and your business.