4 Tips to Gracefully Terminate an Employee

Firing employees remains at the top of the list of my least favorite things I have ever had to do in my professional career. There is absolutely nothing fun about pulling the rug out from under someone when it comes to how they earn their living. For me, it was always such a loaded task since I knew the effects of the news I was sharing would be felt in so many aspects of their lives, from family to finances.

However, there are times when it is a necessary part of working in human resources. In those instances, it’s important to get it right.

Aside from the after effects of terminating an employee, one of the worst things about the process is that it can be humiliating for the employee. Even in the worst circumstances when an employee is terminated for behavior or poor performance, no one deserves to be embarrassed during this already-difficult time. Taking time to determine what your termination process will be ahead of time could make the difference between a traumatizing experience and one that the employee will be able to get past. Take a look at my top four tips for making terminations bearable, for you and your employees.

Plan Ahead of Time

When you’re facing a termination because of behavior or poor performance, it’s vital that you get you documentation lined up ahead of time in case you are questioned about specific instances or need to answer questions for the employee. If you are dealing with a lay off, the sooner you disseminate the news, the better. Rumors of layoffs can be extremely scary for employees, so anything you can do to communicate the truth about what’s going on in a timely manner will be beneficial. In both cases, it’s important to plan what you are going to say ahead of time so that neither you nor the employee is confused.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

It can be easy to get caught up how terminating an employee feels for you but as you’re preparing for and conducting the termination, take a moment to think about what the employee may be feeling. Scared, angry, stressed and embarrassed are probably just a few of the emotions they’re dealing with in that moment. Be compassionate but honest and treat them with respect and dignity. This means giving your employees a moment to gather their thoughts before they walk out if needed, not having them escorted out like a criminal, sending a member of your department to clean out their desk so they don’t have to take the walk of shame back to gather their things and not losing your temper or talking down to them.

Don’t Be a Gossip Queen

Make it a habit to not spread the news of impending terminations among colleagues and friends. We all know that even your most trusted confidants at work can be guilty of passing along what they hear, and it can be a humiliating thing to know you’ve been discussed, even if you don’t know it at the time. While you may assume an employee will never know their co-workers knew about their termination before them, organizations that are guilty of these rumors are likely guilty of it more than once, meaning employees know that if you gossip to them, you probably also gossip about them. Also avoid gossiping about it after they leave, simply out of respect for the employee.

Provide Assistance Where You Can

You can make a big difference in the way an employee feels at the end of a termination meeting. If you can, provide them with information that may help post-termination, such as a packet with information about filing for unemployment and obtaining temporary health insurance. If the termination is the result of a layoff, extend the offer to assist with job placement if you can, or to provide recommendations. In the case of terminating an employee, going the extra mile to make the process easier and more dignified can make a world of difference.