Firing an employee is stressful for all parties — not just for the employee losing a job. No matter how well you’ve communicated about performance problems with the employee, almost no one believes that they will actually get fired. With cause, too, because the average employer often waits too long to fire a non-performing employee.
So, employees convince themselves that they won’t get fired: they think that you like them; they think that you know that they are a nice person, or you recognize that they’ve been trying hard. In fact, you may believe and think all of these things. But, none of your feelings matter when the employee is not performing his job.
Here are the top 10 things to not do when you do decide to fire an employee.
1. Don't fire an employee unless you are meeting face-to-face.
Do not fire an employee using any electronic method — no emails, IMs, voicemails, or phone calls. Even a letter is inappropriate when you fire an employee.
When you fire an employee give them the courtesy that you would extend to any human being. They deserve a face-to-face meeting when you fire an employee. Nothing else works. The fired employee will remember and your other employees who remain have even longer memories. And, no, during this time of social media dominance, don't believe for a minute that the circumstances of the firing will remain secret.
2. Don't fire an employee without warning.
Nothing makes an employee angrier than feeling blindsided when fired. Unless an immediate, egregious act occurs, the employee should experience coaching and performance feedback over time. Before you fire an employee, try to determine what is causing the employee to fail.
If you decide the employee is able to improve her performance, provide whatever assistance is needed to encourage and support the employee. Document each step in the improvement process so that the employee has a record of what is happening at each step. The employer is also protecting its own interests in the event of a lawsuit over the termination.
The actual termination — while almost always somewhat of a surprise — should not come with no warning.
3. Don't fire an employee without a witness.
This gives you an individual who hears and participates in the employment termination in addition to the manager. This person can also help pick up the slack if the hiring manager runs out of words or is unsure of what to say or do next.
This witness is often the human resources staff person. The HR person has more experience than the average manager, in firing employees, so can also help keep the discussion on track and moving to completion.The HR person can also ensure that employees are treated fairly, equally, and with professionalism across departments and individual managers. This limits your liability when you fire an employee.
4. Don't supply lengthy rationale and examples for why you are firing the employee.
If you have coached and documented an employee’s performance over time and provided frequent feedback, there is no point in rehashing your dissatisfaction when you fire the employee. It accomplishes nothing and is cruel. Yet, every employee will ask you why. So, have an answer prepared that is honest and correctly summarizes the situation without detail or placing blame. Or you can simply remind the employee that you have discussed issues with him or her over time, and leave it at that.
5. Don't let the employee believe that the decision is not final.
Because employees don’t believe that you will fire them in the first place, nor in many cases, that they deserve to be fired, don’t allow the employee to believe that there is an opportunity to affect your decision.
Approach the employee with kindness, concern, and respect, but your words should be straightforward. Wishy-washy gains you nothing but grief, if the employee believes he has one last chance to affect your decision.
After an initial greeting, in fact, tell the employee that the purpose of the meeting is to inform her of your decision to terminate her employment, which is final. This is kinder than misleading the employee into believing she can affect the outcome.
6. Don't allow the employee to leave with company property in his possession.
Ask the employee to hand over his key, door pass, badge, smartphone, laptop, tablet and any other company-owned equipment or supplies during the termination meeting. Either go to the employee's work area or accompany the employee, during lunch or a break, if possible, to his work area to collect the rest of the company-owned items before you escort the employee to his car.
7. Don't allow the former employee to access his work area or coworkers.
For their dignity and to not upset your other employees, make arrangements with the employee to come in after work or on a weekend to pick up their personal possessions. Alternatively, you can offer to send the contents of the office to the employee's home.
This allows you to extract company documents and material, such as customer files, and so forth, and allows the employee privacy when they pick up their possessions. If the employee insists on picking up all possessions immediately, wait until lunch or a break, if possible, and always accompany the employee to her work area.
You want to minimize the contact the employee has with your other employees at the work site. And again, preserving the employee's dignity is kind and a best practice. So is making sure that the employee removes no company-owned documents or items that the next employee will need.
8. Don't allow the employee to access information systems.
Terminate the employee’s access to your electronic systems such as email, the company wiki, intranet, customer contact forums, and so forth, during the employment termination meeting, or slightly before. You will need to partner with your IT staff to make certain that loss of access occurs.
Work with IT staff to see what company information may have been taken during the weeks preceding a quit or termination. If the employee wants to send a goodbye note, you can post her appropriate note for her to all staff.
9. Don't end the meeting on a low note.
When you fire an employee, the purpose of the meeting is not to demean him nor to hurt his self-esteem. In fact, everyone’s best interests are served when the employee is able to move forward with his life as quickly as possible. So, you want to end the meeting on a positive note. If you allow fired employees to collect unemployment, tell them.
Talk about job searching and how to get started. Tell him that his contributions were valued. Suggest the type of job that might fit her skills. Use words of encouragement like, we are confident that you will find a job that is a better fit for you.
10. Don't fire an employee without a checklist in hand.
An employment termination checklist can keep you organized and on track when you need to fire an employee. The employment termination checklist ensures that you cover all appropriate topics during what can be a stressful meeting for all participants.
The employment termination checklist provides guidance about informing the employee of what she can expect legally and from your company upon her employment termination. It also serves as proof of the topics and exchanges that were shared with the employee during the termination meeting.
11. Final thoughts about how to fire an employee.
Firing an employee is not your most sought-after experience. But, you can make the experience more palatable by using an effective, supportive approach. The actions you take really do matter to the employee who is being fired and to the coworkers who will learn quickly that the employee is gone.
In this era of social media and electronic communication, your entire workforce may know within a half hour or sooner. And, because you keep employee matters confidential, the employee will tell any story that makes him look good, even if it makes you look bad.Expect a period of time during which successful employees look to you for reassurance about their own jobs.