Firing is one of the toughest things a business owner does for many reasons, including the lack of a dedicated HR team to do your dirty work for you. Combine that with the fact that many people are fired six months after they should have been. You already know that when terminating an employee, there are important legal issues (firing an employee without proper documentation is just asking for a lawsuit) and technological issues (deleting access to servers and changing passwords) to address, but what about the emotional issues of firing someone? Is there a right and a wrong way to handle some of the more human elements of termination?
According to NY Report’s recent survey, nearly half of business owners believe that at least one employee in their companies should be fired right now. “That’s substantial. That’s not an inconsequential number,” says Chason Hecht, HR expert and founder of Retensa, providers of employee retention strategies to reduce employee turnover. “Nearly one in 10 companies wants to get rid of a third or more of their employees. That is a staggering statistic.”
“Before you have the big conversation,” says Hecht, “check to make sure that you’ve told them three times why they may get fired and what they need to do about it. You want them to have an opportunity to address the behavior or the performance problem.” Document conversations and prepare yourself for any inappropriate responses, from a subtle mass email to all your clients to the violent revenge incidents that make national headlines.
Before you prepare what you’re going to say to your employee, make sure you’re confident in your decision to let them go. “You should know in your own mind that it’s too expensive to keep them—emotionally and financially—not to mention the negative impact the employee’s performance issues have on their peers, so that you have certainty going into this conversation,” Hecht says.
When you sit down with your employee, stay unemotional, says Hecht, and choose your words carefully. “You don’t want to say anything more than what is applicable to why they are no longer working there.” Don’t be too generous with praise, which could do more harm than good, and likewise avoid the temptation to list everything they did wrong. Be respectful and approach it like a breakup. Try something like, ‘We need to end this relationship for the both of us.’ Most people will recognize that they’ll be better off afterwards, with another position or at another company, and will hopefully respond maturely.
And then there’s the rest of your staff to deal with. “With the exception of trusted advisors, the person getting fired should be the first to know,” says Hecht. After you’ve spoken to your employee, give him or her some time to compose themselves—whether it takes 15 minutes or two days. Hecht suggests that you include them in the conversation with your staff. “This is a divorce and some relationships remain. The goal is to respectfully separate, mitigate impact, and both sides move on. Think about what happens now. It’s a train wreck, and carnage is everywhere. That affects everyone for weeks,” he says. “Be fully aware that the person getting fired is going to tell their side of the story,” says Hecht, and if you’ve done everything right, your side shouldn’t be that different. Acknowledge that they’d be better off somewhere else, wish them luck, and let your employees know who’ll be taking over.
At your next company meeting or event, allow your employees to air their thoughts and questions. “You do want to make it clear to staff that this person didn’t quit. This person was terminated for performance-related problems. And that performance is not what the organization needs to move forward,” says Hecht. Once you’re alone with your remaining staff, he says, “be clear about the specific behaviors that were unacceptable. That chances were given to improve, and ultimately it was clear that the organization needed something else, and they would be happier someplace else.” Emphasize that ultimately the company’s going to be better off when they find someone who can deliver. It might also be a good idea to get staff involved in hiring someone new. “Include the staff in the hiring process to ensure that they get the right person in,” says Hecht, “unless they were guilty of hiring this one.”
It’s also a good idea to choose someone to take over the fired employee’s workload, and/or put an ad out anonymously to start getting in potential prospects.
But what’s the most important thing to remember when firing someone? “Don’t wait too long. The cost of a poor performer is far greater than their salary,” says Hecht. “Do it.”
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.