How to gracefully fire your employees?

By Savithri Subramanian
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The most difficult thing to say to an employee is that his/her service is no longer needed in the organization. Simply put firing an employee needs very tactful handling since it will give rise to all negative feelings of anger, resentment, disappointment, shock, bitterness, trying to be defensive etc. Weeding out unproductive employees or making necessary cuts is vital for business growth. However well it is put across, the employee will perceive it negatively regardless of your intent.

Expecting these raw reactions, every organization should decide on strategies to handle this moment of firing an employee. The methodology adopted could be different depending on the employee, his/her position held in the organization, situation or reason for the termination. Most vital should be to make sure that the actions taken are legal.

Strategy 1.

Organizations having a script in place can make the process much easier. The script needs to inform the employee of their termination clearly without mincing words via email. After telling the employee about their termination, discuss the logistics of the decision.  This can be sent by HR or the manager of the employee in the termination limelight.

The terminated employee might want to discuss in which case, he/she can be directed to HR personnel.

Strategy 2.

HR handling the termination of employees of all hierarchies. Here HR team can decide who among the team would convey the termination to the employee.  Here the relation becomes impersonal and emotions would be low. To execute the termination process, HR would discuss with the concerned manager and understand the reasons for termination.

Strategy 3.

Reporting Manager does the communication to the employee regarding the termination.  Depending on the reason for the termination, the reporting manager should prepare for the meeting with the employee to announce the termination. The following points could be considered and applied depending on circumstances.

  • Using clear and confident language is the key to successfully terminating an employee.
  • Writing a few key sentences down as a reference may be helpful in the discussion. Besides, managers should also think about topics that they will not be willing to discuss.
  • The manager should state outright that the termination is not up for debate, and should resist engaging with the employee’s arguments.
  • The manager may be able to help the employee deal with the termination positively.
  • Feeling compassion for the employee is natural, and the manager may want to express these feelings, although this should be avoided in some cases.
  • If the firing is due to poor performance, giving the employee compliments is a bad idea, as they will ring hollow.

Strategy 4.

A senior manager might handle announcing the termination. Here again, depending from case to case, at times a senior manager might agree to announce the termination to the employee who might have been underutilized or who has served long the organization and is close to their retirement age.  Here too the manager can utilize suitable points mentioned in strategy 3.  Additionally, offering some extra compensation like a VRS or some other monetary benefit to soften the blow of joblessness of the fired employee.

Strategy 5.

Transferring the employee to another department/branch.  Though this is not a termination, this could be a tactic the managers adopt for getting rid of a problem at our end and transferring the same to another in the organization. Assuming the employee has the necessary skills and attitude, moving them to a new position may be worth the effort. On the other hand, if the employee has a poor attitude and a lack of ability, transferring them may not be a good decision, as you are simply solving one department’s problem by making an issue elsewhere. But subsequently, the employee would find some other opening elsewhere and move out without much resentment.

Apart from the strategies mentioned in this article, HR can churn newer methods to fire employees gracefully and with dignity.  Innovation and creativity have no limit and can be added to their practices.

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