Letting Someone Go: Part 1 – The Human Element

10 mins read

This article is written to discuss the importance of incorporating the human element throughout the process of terminating an employee.

Dismissing an employee can be a difficult decision, whether the decision is due to circumstances that are outside of the employee’s control such as organizational restructuring, or other reasons such as employee misconduct. Before acting upon any initial thoughts, feelings, or emotions you might have towards an employee when dealing with their misconduct, it is essential to “check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

What we mean is before acting on any initial thoughts, feelings, or emotions you might have towards an employee when dealing with their misconduct; take a moment to pause and check that you are not being reactive – which could potentially lead to an undesirable outcome.

When letting someone go, there is a right and wrong approach to this challenging situation:

    • Right Approach: incorporates compassion, empathy, understanding, and due diligence. By integrating humanity, you keep your personal influences in check and ensure that you did all you could do to change the outcome.
    • Wrong Approach: disdain any humanity by demonstrating reactive behaviour, which does little to support the employee to change the outcome. This approach keeps you from seeing the bigger picture as you are ruminating on negative feelings, emotions, or thoughts.

The termination process is already challenging enough – for both sides of the table, so why make it harder?

It is crucial to keep in mind that you are dealing with human beings who, just like you, have feelings and emotions. Now, we are not saying that you need to take on the responsibility of their feelings or emotions, or that you are there to be their emotional support – they have family and friends for that. However, you can alleviate stress and reduce the risk of heightened emotional reactions by remaining warm, empathetic, and compassionate – that’s the key takeaway!

The Decision

The decision to terminate should always be made through careful consideration since, as human beings, we can be distracted by personal influences. This is why it is important to separate personal from business when we are faced with unfavourable employee misconduct.

Not separating business from personal can result in reactive decision making, which in this scenario can lead to:

    • Waiting way past the optimal time to terminate an employee due to concerns over what it will do to employee morale, not wanting to look like the bad guy, being afraid of confrontation, etc.
    • Terminating an employee without having all the pieces of the puzzle together to make an informed and objective business decision

Many successful leaders lead their teams and approach challenging situations with humanity, allowing them to act accordingly in a timely manner. Nothing is worse than a leader who leads a team through negative reinforcement where snap decisions are made, or no decisions are made at all.

Letting someone go involves more than the employee in question, it also involves those who may be directly or indirectly impacted by the business decision.

Delivering the News

When the decision has been made to terminate, it is important to keep those involved or who will be directly impacted by the decision informed of the outcome. Best practice is to meet with each person separately to deliver the news.

Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel if everyone knew why you were being terminated? How would you feel if it were being discussed amongst others? How humiliating would it be to overhear that you were going to be terminated?

This sensitive topic is one that should always be treated with the utmost confidentiality to demonstrate your respect towards the terminating employee, just because they are being terminated does not mean they are any less of a person or deserve to be treated with disrespect.

Since the terminating employee might have some shame or you are not aware how they will react, you might want to let your team know that they can have the morning/day off, so they are not put into an uncomfortable situation. The terminating employee might not want to have an audience as they pack up their office or are being escorted out of the building.

Termination Meeting

During this meeting it is important to be considerate of the terminating employee’s feelings and emotions.

When conducting this meeting, make sure it is in a private area with the least traffic possible. You want to respect the terminating employee and demonstrate confidence. Nothing is more demeaning then having an audience while you are going through an emotional situation, feeling as though you are being watched, judged, or whatever story your mind may create.

Even though the main purpose of this short meeting is to provide the terminating employee with the information they need relating to the dismissal, there is always room for you to keep your humanity intact. Take the time to answer any questions that they may have, come prepared with what you are going to say and remain empathetic throughout the discussion. They may not want to discuss in the moment, but be prepared if they do.

If you are not comfortable leading this meeting, have your HR personnel or a third party facilitator (i.e. therapist, mediator, or coach) take over once the news has been delivered and leave the room. By staying in the room, you risk the heightened emotion becoming more unsettling for everyone, especially if you are unable to compose yourself or are uncomfortable.

Follow-Up Team Discussion

After the termination has happened, meet with your team to discuss the plan going forward. This is not a meeting to bitch or speak unkindly about the terminated employee! This meeting is intended to let the team know who will be taking over various duties, if there is going to be a replacement, and what to expect in the near-future.

To reduce worry, gossip, or embellished stories being created, remain open about the termination and the rationale behind it. Reiterate what you told each person individually and address any future concerns or worries that are brought forward, discussing the previous concerns or questions that were brought up prior to the termination. This said, you do not need to disclose all the information and results of your investigation which led to the termination.

Letting someone go is not always going to be an easy decision, let alone an easy process – regardless of how many terminations you have participated in. The important takeaway is to always incorporate your humanity into the process to make the challenging circumstance seem less daunting and hard on both yourself and the others involved.

To ensure that you remain objective throughout the termination decision making and process, it is crucial that you separate personal from business – do not take the situation and outcomes personally. If the terminating employee or your team requires further assistance, always be there for support. Just remember that you are not a trained counselling professional and are not responsible for their sole counsel. If they are struggling with the termination, make sure you give them the right tools or resources, so they can reach out to those who are equipped to help.

Now that you understand why it is important to incorporate the human element when letting someone go and how to lead throughout the termination process, please stay tuned for part 2 of this series when we discuss practicing due diligence throughout the steps that can lead to a termination.

Download this resource Letting Someone Go Part 1 – The Human Element.

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