How to Terminate an Employee: 4 Important Considerations

By December 6, 2021 No Comments
How to terminate an employee and not mess it up

Please read an article on the mass termination of 900 employees over zoom and then come back to read our thoughts (here’s one). If you’ve been wondering how to terminate an employee, that is not what we would recommend. It’s not even the “zoom” part of it…

I should note this is not a hit job on Better’s CEO Vishal Garg. I don’t think anything anyone writes about him, or what he has done, will be worse than what he has done. I wish the 900 terminated employees well and hope the other 1,000 or whatever left at Better have their eyes wide open.

How to Terminate an Employee: Consider Timing

I got laid off right after Christmas. It was a Friday, January the 13th (get it? Friday the 13th?). If you think about how people tend to put a lot of their holiday expenses on credit that’s a crummy time to lose a job. Of course, we shouldn’t spend for holidays on credit… I get that.

Really, there’s no good time to lay someone off. Yet, as the person who is going to lay others off, think about when you should do it. Should it be in the morning? Or at the end of the day? Should it be during lunch when less people are around? Should it be on a Monday or a Friday? Or during the week? Should you wait for a few weeks or months to see if something changes, or do it right away?

This might sound trivial but the time you choose to do this deed can have a grand impact on everyone.

How to Terminate an Employee: Factor in Impact on Those Staying

One of the biggest considerations is survivor’s guilt, especially if there is a mass termination. People can actually feel all kinds of weird emotions about not having been terminated, perhaps wondering why others were chosen over them. This messes with their ability to perform well at work, job satisfaction, etc.

Another consideration is the level of paranoia you inject in the organization. People will immediately think, “am I next?” People start getting their resumes/CVs ready, networking, interviewing, and getting ready to jump ship. The chatter in the hallways and behind closed doors can be hours of what-ifs and what-are-you-going-to-dos. There will be talk about starting companies and moving to other companies with your key employees. People will choose to leave… perhaps people you were counting on staying.

Of course, keeping bad, toxic employees will have its own impact. If you keep someone around that is bad for the organization, especially in a leadership position, you make everyone question your leadership skills and abilities. I’ve seen really bad leaders kept at organizations because everyone was afraid of terminating them. The message was, “You can be horrible and stay as long as we are afraid of letting you go.” This is NOT the message you want to send to your team, especially if you talk a lot about building a wonderful culture.

How to Terminate an Employee: With Dignity and Respect

This is one of my most importants points: The people you terminate are humans. They have feelings and families. They have needs and hopes, responsibilities and plans. Please, never forget that people are not numbers. Please treat them with dignity and respect.

If you want to know how to terminate an employee the wrong way it is to do it the way the Grinch would have, before his heart grew. No matter what people have done, be kind. This can go a long way to helping you sleep better at night. This can go a long way to helping those who stay with the company know that even though hard decisions needed to be made, they were done respectfully.

After the termination please be careful, especially as a leader, to not waste time disparaging the terminated employees. Did they mess things up? Maybe? Did they give you lots to talk about? Perhaps. Do you need to rehash problems? You can easily get into toxic gossip mode that will have an impact on the new culture you are creating.

NOTE: Every termination (and new hire) will have an impact on your organizational culture.

How to Terminate an Employee: Remember Employer Brand

Speaking of organizational culture, you should consider how your terminations will impact your employer brand. Not that that should be the sole consideration of when or how you do an termination but messing up the termination could really impact your employer brand.

Imagine a poorly executed termination where details get out. Could be to the local news or on LinkedIn or amongst the person’s peers online. That person shares their side of the story… perhaps to save face, or to warn others, etc. Whatever the reason, this can have a massive impact on your brand. We’ve seen that in the news over the years where a key person gets let go and then writes some kind of whistleblower article that gets picked up around the world.

If you need to terminate someone do it well. Do it right. Don’t hurt yourself, and your brand, by botching this.

How to Terminate an Employee: Give Help

Years ago it was customary to help employees land their next role. Outplacement is the industry that helps managers transition their terminated employees to their next role. Outplacement packages usually include help with resumes, networking and interview coaching, and even a temporary office to work from. I’ve spoken at outplacement firms from Boston to San Francisco and have met some amazingly cool people who provide outplacement services.

A company might pay $15,000+ to put an executive through outplacement. A non-executive could run $500 to $3,000 (give or take) per person. To be honest, I know some organizations pay for outplacement as a “cover my butt” tactic to say “we care about you, look, we spent this money to help you land!”

Managers have called me and said, “I feel horrible! What could I do to help the people I needed to terminate in this very difficult period in their life?” I love those calls. The tug-at-your-heartstring calls. These are people who recognize they greatly impacted lives and families with the termination.

There are many ways you could help. Of course, consult with your HR or legal counsel to know what you absolutely should not do. But have a heart and figure out what you can do. Perhaps you can make calls to peers at other organizations to see if they know of any openings. Or you make networking introductions. Both of those are FREE.

Or, budget a few hundred bucks and get them real job search help. But help them. Somehow figure out how to help them through this.

How to Terminate an Employee: Summary

Each of these ideas, when considering how to terminate an employee, are critical. Personally I think “with dignity and respect” is the most critical, but this is a complex topic. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Have a heart.

Realize that figuring out how to terminate an employee is as hard as it might be for you, as the manager, it will be multiples harder for the person terminated.

Jason Alba

Jason Alba

I'm passionate about building great cultures. I love respect in the workforce, especially respect that is earned. I love strategic management, leadership, and vision. I love healthy companies through profitability. I love employee engagement, employee performance, and employee satisfaction. I love how Snowfly can help YOUR organization work towards all of these things.

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