I sat in this week as a witness with a client who had to fire a well-liked employee. Dismissing an employee is, at best, a difficult process. Legal implications aside, how you handle the process will have a significant impact on your business going forward. Employees are quick to pick up on how you treated their dismissed colleague. Here are some key “do’s” and “don’ts” that can help make the process less nerve-wracking.
Don’t wing it. To begin with, dismissing an employee is an emotional process and you may need time to step back and calm down. After you have made the decision to let an employee go, take the time you need to prepare before you have the dismissal conversation. Check with your lawyer to make sure you have your legal ducks in a row. If there is to be a separation agreement, make sure you fully understand it so you can be prepared to answer questions. Decide who needs to know beforehand and fill them in.
Do take stock of what you need to do to protect the company (stop computer access, cancel phone service, retrieve company property, get keys and credit cards, protect files, etc.). Make all these arrangements prior to the dismissal meeting so that things are ready to go when you “flip the switch.” Make yourself a checklist so something important is not overlooked in the heat of the moment during the dismissal.
Do keep it simple. There is no need to go into a long and detailed justification. I once read that the employee hears very little after the words “you’re fired.” And don’t argue. You’ve made the decision. Keep your message clear and to the point.
Don’t go it alone. Rehearse. Have the conversation you’re going to have with the employee with an appropriate colleague. Keep it simple and straightforward and make sure you have the key points you want to make firmly in mind. Have a witness with you in the dismissal meeting. This provides not only moral support but also the insurance of a second set of eyes and ears to report information should there be legal issues going forward.
Don’t fire someone on a Friday. Letting someone go at 4 p.m. Friday leaves you wide open for problems and does little to help the dismissed employee deal with the situation. The employee has the weekend to stew and to share the news with others who are not working. And, resources necessary to help the fired employee are usually not available on Saturday and Sunday. The earlier in the week you can do the deed, the better.
Don’t have the employee do the walk of shame. Unless there are some overriding security issues, no dismissed employee should be escorted out of the building. Allow the employee to collect their personal belongings and leave with dignity. You might want to make arrangements for them to leave and return during off hours to clean out their office.
Manage the firing process well and you protect both your business and your good employees.
An experienced business executive and organizational consultant, Jan Flynn teaches at the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business at Georgia College & State University.