As a business owner or manager, you’ll sometimes have to deal with difficult employees. You may be able to coach some of them to better performance. For others, no amount of intervention will turn the employee around.
Even when it becomes clear that the best decision is to stop investing in the employee and let him or her go, saying goodbye is tough, especially for small businesses. Everyone in the company will have eyes on you, and how you handle the termination can have both short- and long-term effects. The more you follow the 15 tips below, the better you’ll be at completing the task efficiently and effectively.
Make sure it's them, not you. If you’re at the point of having to fire someone, it’s a good time to re-evaluate your hiring and training processes. Effective recruiting, hiring and employee development processes are the keys to finding and keeping great employees – and to your company’s success.
Proceed with caution. Before deciding to terminate, have multiple conversations with the problem employee about your performance concerns. These discussions may help the employee realize independently that your company isn’t the best fit. Sometimes, they will prompt the employee to leave on his own.
Help the employee “see it coming.” Unless an employee is being fired for an immediate, highly egregious act, such as stealing or breach of contract, the news should never come as a surprise. Any employee who has been underperforming or had behavioral issues should already have received regular feedback about where she is falling short and should understand that she is not meeting expectations.
Document religiously. Proper documentation of the employee’s underperformance or behavioral problems, as well as disciplinary action and other steps management has taken to help the employee meet expectations, will protect your company after the termination is complete. Without this documentation, it will be more difficult to defend your position if a former employee sues the company for discrimination or wrongful termination.
Plan the logistics. Decide on the location, time and date. A neutral, non-public room, such as a meeting or conference room that will not require the employee to walk past many others, is the best place to deliver the news. Make sure there are no conflicts in the room’s availability. Schedule the meeting in early to mid-afternoon in the middle of the week. Avoid Fridays so the employee has a day or two to arrange resources he or she may need to cope, rather than having to stew over the firing without assistance over the weekend.
Get documents and resources ready in advance. Have on hand any documents you’ll need to give the employee or ask her to sign. If you’re concerned the employee might react explosively, arrange for security personnel to be nearby (but not in the meeting room itself).
Take a moment. At least 15 minutes before the meeting, give yourself time to prepare mentally and emotionally and review what you’ll say.
Don’t be a Lone Ranger. Include a trustworthy witness in the termination meeting. This might be an HR representative or, if you don’t have dedicated HR staff, another manager. Having another person in the room limits your company’s liability by preventing a “he-said-she-said” situation.
Keep it short. Deliver the news within the first couple of minutes. Be clear, straightforward and brief about the company’s reasons for the termination. Remember that your objective is to advise the employee of the company’s conclusion, not to debate it or cover ground you’ve discussed with the employee previously. Answer any questions professionally and concisely, without being wishy-washy, so the employee understands the decision is final.
Stick to the facts. Letting someone go is emotionally hard, even when you’re certain it’s the right thing to do. In the termination meeting, focus on specific facts and stay away from any comments that might come across as a personal attack.
Cover information the employee needs to go forward. Remind the employee about any legally binding agreements he may have signed when he joined the company, such as non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements. Provide the basics about how long benefits will continue, how the employee can get his final paycheck and severance plans and outplacement services, if any. Because the employee will probably be in an emotional state that may limit his grasp on this information, give him these financial details in writing, as well as verbally.
Retrieve company property. During the meeting, ask the employee to turn over her key, I.D. badge, access pass and any other company-owned devices or supplies that she has with her. Do not allow the former employee to access her work area or her colleagues alone after the termination is complete. Either go to the employee’s workspace with another colleague or go there with the employee to collect any remaining company-owned property.
Return the employee’s personal items. Have another manager or trusted employee pack the terminated employee’s personal possessions and place them outside the meeting room so the employee doesn’t have to parade through the office to collect these belongings. If this is not logistically feasible, offer to deliver personal belongings to the employee’s home or arrange for him to retrieve them after hours or on the weekend. If the employee insists on collecting personal items from his workstation immediately, accompany him while he does this.
Escort the employee out. Terminated employees are almost always angry and hurt. Some may decide to seek vengeance by committing an act of sabotage that negatively affects normal business operations or costs the company a lot of money to fix. For these reasons, a terminated employee should be escorted to his or her car by a security team member, if possible, or by a member of management.
Inform other staff. Particularly in a small business, one person’s termination can have a major effect. After the terminated employee has departed, give other staff a brief, straightforward explanation – in a face-to-face group huddle, if possible – to limit gossip and prevent others from worrying that their jobs are on the line.