Firing an employee is never easy. No matter what the cause for dismissal is, the very fact that you have to participate in this awkward, goodbye conversation is destabilizing on so many levels.
Instead of “firing”, I like to think of it as “letting go”. When you let go of people, there is always room for optimism and hope for wherever it is they are going next. No matter how unsuited those employees may have been for the job they were hired to do in your organization, there’s always something else out there they are uniquely suited for, and I make very sure that this message is well understood before dismissed employees walk out of my door. Being let go, or even laid off, is a hard knock on the ego as it is. I’d hate to see any ex-employee of mine go sabotaging their growth potential by using this one failure in life as a yardstick to measure their professional and personal worth.
As business owners get more experienced, they evolve a firing process of their own that seems most comfortable to them. But here are some guidelines that I personally use, that may be educational for new business-owners preparing to carry out this rather unenviable task:
# 1: DON’T MAKE IT A SURPRISE
The worst fallouts of firing happen when the action comes as a surprise. The concerned employees should be well aware that their dismissal was potentially on the cards, as an unfortunate finale of an ongoing review process. That way, there is less blame to be bandied about the office about the boss not giving employees enough notice to buck up and do better, and the fired employees are more likely to introspect on their own lack of performance than point accusing fingers at management for highhandedness.
# 2: MAKE SURE THERE WAS A PERFORMANCE REVIEW
Typically, I give an employee 3-4 weeks to rectify shortfalls in their performance before taking the final step. The managers of the concerned employees are involved in my review process too, as they understand the day-to-day minutiae of the position better than I do. If there is no significant improvement even after a month of motivation and encouragement, I have to conclude that these employees are not going to shape up, and the sooner they are replaced, the better it is for the health of the organization.
# 3: DON’T SWEETEN THE BITTER PILL
There is a strong human compulsion to gloss over the real causes of dismissal, so as not to hurt these employees more than one has to. But `cover stories’ rarely hold up well upon scrutiny, and leave you exposed to all kinds of malpractice charges. Leave no doubt in the employees’ mind about why they are being dismissed because the facts should be quantifiable and crystal clear because of the 3-4 week performance review that had been in place prior to the event.
Don’t try to take a gentle approach either. A lot of business-owners I know will take employees out to lunch, imagining that this gesture of friendliness will somehow take the edge off the dismissal. It never does, and you only succeed in making the employees feel even more uncomfortable and embarrassed because your thoughtful gesture is construed as pity. Spare them the ordeal of food getting stuck in their dry throats as they wait for the shoe to fall.
# 4: NEVER FIRE AN EMPLOYEE IN ANGER
Take time to be in total control of the situation before you declare any employee dismissed. Acting in anger or in the spur of the moment can leave you vulnerable to repercussions, as well as make you look impulsive and irresponsible to the rest of your staff.
# 5: HAVE A WITNESS PRESENT
You never know how an employee is going to react to the news of dismissal, so it is always prudent to have someone else present in the room.
# 6: TAKE ALL PRECAUTIONS AGAINST RETALIATION
Have clear records of the dismissal and secure all sensitive information prior to the event. Allow dismissed employees to leave immediately to minimize their discomfiture in front of their colleagues. Hanging around the office brings all work to a standstill anyway, and there are more opportunities for them to vent and stir up other members of staff. Decide on a time after work hours when their personal possessions can be collected and their desk cleared out.
# 7: CHOOSE FRIDAY
Monday is supposed to be the best day to fire people as they can start their job search right away. I prefer Friday myself, because the weekend ahead gives the employee 48 hours to process and accept the sudden change in their circumstances. Not having an office to go to the very next day is way too distressing in my opinion because everybody needs time and privacy to grieve, deal and analyze before they can begin the process of healing and start the job search on a more positive note.
# 8: MANAGE THE RIPPLE EFFECT
Firing an employee causes a ripple effect and fear psychosis can easily set in among other members of staff. People start to wonder who is going to be next, and morale goes down exponentially. Make sure that this does not happen. Talk to the staff yourself if necessary or have your managers speak to them to remove any fears and restore order in the workplace.
“Employees represent an opportunity to inspire, not a burden to carry,” says British motivational speaker and marketing consultant Simon Sinek, and I couldn’t agree more. Even in the act of letting go, there’s much inspirational work to be done, so employees can look back at their time in your employ as a stepping stone to bigger, better things.
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