There is probably nothing more stressful for HR Managers than handling an employee termination. Whether your organization is in the midst of downsizing or you are terminating for cause, the process invokes stress for you, the employee and the entire department or organization.
As an HR Manager, you have a dual role to consider both the organization and the individual.You are responsible for ensuring that the company has followed all policies and procedures (if they exist) and you may require legal guidance to confirm that the organization’s actions comply with current legal guidelines.
Once that is done, you have to think about the individual in front of you. This not only affects them personally but also their families and it is often impossible to predict the level of emotion they will exhibit. Your job is to treat them with dignity and respect and keep the conversation productive and moving forward.
Working with Managers Ahead of Time
For many small or mid-sized organizations, there may not be clearly defined procedures for performance evaluations. One of the best ways to help mitigate the fallout at a termination is to train your managers on how to have productive performance conversations with employees.
Most managers dislike having these conversations and put it off. However, if employees are aware there is a problem early in the process and there are clearly defined performance expectations, it doesn’t come as such a shock when you meet with them to review why they are being let go.
Steps to Handling a Termination
If your organization allows managers to terminate their employees, then you should prepare them on how to handle the conversation and appropriate language to use. If it’s you who is responsible, here are some helpful guidelines on how to avoid escalating the level of emotion and taking as much stress out of the conversation as possible.
- Short, Sweet and To the Point – this is not going to get any better the longer the meeting goes on – so be clear and concise as to why you asked them to meet and move forward with the conversation. If there have been performance evaluations or previous warnings, have them readily available and convey that they have not met their performance expectations. If there are no evaluations or written warnings, detail specifically why they are being terminated. You don’t want to engage in a dialogue, that denigrates into a “he said, she said.”
- Empathy not Sympathy. Being empathetic means saying you understand how they must be feeling. Being sympathetic adds a component of comforting someone because of what they are going through. Hopefully the person has family or friends who can comfort them – that is not the role of an HR Manager. But you can let them know that you understand this is a very difficult situation.
- Define Next Steps. Once the employee has begun to process what is happening, share with them what is going to happen next. It is a good idea to have a package available if they need to sign any paperwork and document final paychecks, insurance coverage, etc. Don’t forget to get any badges or keys or other company equipment before they leave. Allow them to go and get their things or if they choose not to go back to their workstation, let them know that their personal belongings will be collected and available for pick up at a later date. You may want to put a deadline as to how long you are willing to hold their belongings.
- Follow-Up Questions. Finally, let them know you’re available by email or phone to answer any other questions they may have once they leave.
While the guidelines above are useful for probably 99% of terminations, there are some exceptions. if you believe in advance that there is a good chance the employee will become overtly emotional it may be a good idea to schedule the meeting when the fewest employees are on the premise. If you believe that an employee may become violent, it is important to take precautions. If you have a security staff, let them know what is going on and to be on alert. Also, you may want to ask another member of your department to be aware so if something occurs they can call 911 if necessary.
Ultimately, you want to work to make any termination a smooth process that results in as few disgruntled employees as possible and that shows value to your organization so you are brought into the process sooner rather than later, if there is a potential of a termination.
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