How To Terminate An Employee with Empathy

How To Terminate An Employee with Empathy

When you have to terminate one of your team, it is easy to get trapped in the practicalities of what needs to be done.    

How will it affect the remaining team?  Do you need to rehire someone?  How fast can that happen?  Who shoulders the additional workload until we get someone new?

Although these questions and concerns are valid, they tend to keep your focus inward.  We are effectively dehumanising them.  ‘Blaming them’ for causing the termination. 

But the reality is often different. 

It is rare for people to become failures overnight.  It’s critical to examine the big picture.  We hired and trained this person, so we can’t entirely excuse ourselves from all responsibility.

We lose focus that terminating someone is often an emotional, confusing and uncertain time for the individual involved. 

But if you can see the termination in the big picture – why the person didn’t work out, maybe there was a change in circumstance or the fit wasn’t right at the time of recruitment.  This can drastically change how the termination takes place.

By embracing empathy and looking outwards, you can make this process easier on everyone involved.  It may even help your former employee move onto a role that is a better fit for them. 

It should be no surprise that most people hurt when they are terminated.  Even if they say they are aren’t.  A little bit of kindness can go a long way.

Strategies to help you deal with the termination

Be clear, straightforward and remain calm

The termination process is never easy for anyone involved.  But, how you lead the meeting can dramatically impact how the news is received. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise to the person being fired.  Even if someone has done something remarkably egregious. It should have been clear to them; this behaviour was never going to be tolerated.

It’s also good to get straight to the point.  Don’t call a meeting and then spend the first 30 minutes asking after their family.  By being forthright, it is clear this is the final decision and not up for discussion or negotiation. 

Clearly state the reason why

Show that you have thought the matter through and planned what will happen next. 

Inform the employee what will happen with their computer, how they are going to get paid, how their termination will be announced to the team and what is going to happen with their work responsibilities

All of this should be pre-planned to help them understand that this isn’t a poorly constructed instant decision.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible or show kindness.  Being flexible includes saying goodbye to the other teammates or writing a goodbye email.  It doesn’t hurt to be accommodating within reason.

Always have a written copy of everything you’re planning to say, especially the terms and next steps.  It should be printed out to give to them or sent via email after the meeting.  It is safe to say the person will likely be in shock and won’t be receiving or processing anything. 

Allow people to respond

There are a few reasons for allowing people to respond. 

First, it gives them closure.  This is important for people to be able to move on. 

Secondly, you can understand their motivation and concerns.  This is helpful information to know from a risk mitigation point of view.  It also helps you find ways to support them. 

However, don’t expect them to tell you everything.  There may be a lot of emotion or bad blood because it hasn’t worked out.  This is where having a third party involved is helpful.  They do not have history, which allows them to hear what the person has to say without judgement or feeling emotionally invested in the scenario.

It’s also useful to give them some time and space to process what happened before requiring a response.  You don’t’ need to rush the conversation or the process. 

Find out their main concern

When you give people time to respond, you will usually find out what their main concern is moving forward.  It might be financial, but it also might be about getting their next job, having to protect their reputation or feel they have lost respect.

Often by listening to their concerns and acting on them, you show respect and consideration, even if the employment isn’t going to work out. 

Ultimately, it’s about them, not you!

In the end, all these strategies are designed to get you thinking about the individual.  How this news will affect them and what you can do to make the process as smooth as possible.  These strategies are less important than the motivation behind them. 

If all else fails, simply try to put yourself in their shoes.  Present the news with kindness, ask them what they need and try your best to accommodate it.

© Human Resources Global

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