HR Minute: Minimizing the Agony of Termination

By Claudia St. John

termination-of-employmentNo doubt, terminating an employee is the just about the worst part of being a manager. It’s a difficult conversation; we have no idea how the employee will react, and even when we know termination is justified, we hate to hurt someone, both emotionally and financially.

While there’s no easy way to handle a termination, there are several steps managers can take to minimize the potential for a volatile situation:

  1. It should not be a complete surprise.

Proper performance management means that by the time you get to termination, the employee already understands what actions of theirs you have deemed unacceptable and that the consequences for failure to improve could lead to termination. Except in rare circumstances, if an employee is completely blindsided by the termination, it suggests the manager did not provide clear or sufficient feedback and coaching.

  1. Documentation should be in proper order.

The written case for termination should be in the form of clear, concise warnings that factually and objectively outline the employee’s deficiencies, expectations for improvement, the consequences for failure to improve, and details of progress or lack thereof. At this point in the process, the only documentation that should remain is what is said and done in the termination meeting.

  1. Keep your emotions in check.

The employee is already going to be upset; it’s important that you not get that way, too. Minimizing the angst and risks associated with termination requires you to stay calm, brief, objective, and factual. Keeping your emotions in check also means balancing the need to be kind and empathetic with the need to be honest.

  1. Treat the employee with dignity, but don’t sugarcoat the facts.

The employee needs to leave with a clear understanding of why the termination occurred, not questioning whether the termination was unfair or unjustified. It’s best also to allow the employee a moment to vent and say what is on his or her mind. Just don’t get drawn into a back-and-forth. Once they’ve had a brief period to express their thoughts, calmly reiterate that the decision is final and wish them well.

Finally, a note on “Employment at Will.” Many employers believe they have the right to hire and fire anyone at any time at will. While this is true, it is the responsibility of the employer to be able to prove the termination was not discriminatory or based on the employees race, religion, sex, age, disability or other protected classification. This is why proper performance or behavioral documentation is critical.

Claudia St. John is President of Affinity HR Group, Inc., a national human resources consulting firm serving hundreds of clients nationwide. With more than 20 years of experience in human resources, employee engagement, and organizational development, she is an author and a frequent public speaker who contributes regularly to publications on the topic of human resources.

image courtesy of workspirited