Letting People Go

Terminating Employment Honestly, Respectfully and With Dignity

Stay Calm, Be Direct and Honest.

© iStockphoto/Cimmerian

Hey Bob, great to see you. Come on in. How're things going? You getting on OK? Great suit by the way. I've, er, asked to speak with you today because, well, you know. The, er, company, hasn't had a great year. You've been great, it's just the profits you know, they're really down. That darn highway construction has stopped business short. We just don't have the visibility we used to. And, well, I'm really sorry, but the decision has been made to let you go. Like I say, I really apologize. I know this is a shock. I went to bat for you but they just wouldn't budge. I can't believe I am sitting here saying this to you. Trust me, if I could do anything I would.

Sound a bit familiar? When you have to give someone bad news, you feel bad yourself. Your first instinct is to make the other person feel good, deflect some of the blame, and be seen as a good guy despite what you are saying.

Whether the person is being fired or laid off, it's an emotionally charged time. However, if you allow emotion to dictate how you deliver your message, you risk not sending the right message.

You need to be clear and focused. You need to have a plan in place to deal with the person's exit. If you aren't focused and prepared, possible unwanted side effects include:

  • A wrongful dismissal suit filed by the worker.
  • Potential sabotage of business equipment and information.
  • Fear and distrust amongst remaining co-workers.
  • Loss of a potential rehire in redundancy situations if or when the business climate changes or improves.

No matter what your personal feelings are, no matter who made the decision, and no matter how the termination will affect the rest of the workplace, when you are talking to the person in question, you owe it to him or her to be direct, honest, and fair.

Beating around the bush, talking about everything but the real reason for the meeting, or trying to deflect blame are not helpful behaviors. They prolong the inevitable and only provide more fodder for the terminated worker to find a grievance with the process. A wronged former colleague is a dangerous person.

While you can't be sure the person won't seek revenge, you can mitigate the risk by being well prepared for the conversation that lies ahead. Prepare for what lies ahead by planning what you need to do before, during, and after the termination conversation.

Before the Termination Meeting...

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