Terminating employees is not easy and should never be

In today’s tenuous economic environment, companies of all sizes must focus on reducing expenses to protect the organization for the greater good and the remaining employees. The headlines are inescapable; organizations from the smallest to largest are faced with laying off or permanently terminating personnel, frequently without regard to longevity or capabilities.

To do nothing except hope for a quick turnaround is akin to whistling past a graveyard. In order to deal with rising costs, inflation and reduced consumer demand, an organization must lower operating expenses, including payroll, to ensure sustainability.

After the decision to do what must be done, knowing that this will inflict hardship and pain on those affected, it’s critical to follow a few steps that are much better than just showing people the door. It is mandatory to recognize that, for many, this event may be one of the most devastating and unpleasant in their life. No matter the explanation, it’s highly unlikely that the recipient of the termination will say, “Thank you and have a great life.” Instead, there could be disturbing emotions, hostilities and other physical reactions.

The people being told to leave deserve a factual and complete, yet speedy, explanation. Immediately after delivering the message to soothe the pain of the now-former employee, he or she must be informed of the final pay arrangements, temporary benefits, any new job assistance, and an opportunity to gather their personal belongings and exit with dignity. Some companies require that the person be physically walked out of the building. However, unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as threats, this ignores respect for the employee and sends a terrible message to those who will continue with the company. It humiliates and says to all that previous contributions were meaningless. If there is a concern of any reprisal, there should be the appropriate security people on standby to discreetly, without creating a “perp walk” type spectacle, escort the person off the premises.

Something that should never be done is to fire someone by phone or email, or to terminate the individual without another person present. This is a safety precaution and to avoid a future he-said-she-said situation. The boss conducting the task must never get into an argument nor allow a debate on the reason for the actions. It’s also a bad idea to leave the door open, giving false hope that the decision is not final.

Nothing in this column is particularly new or earth-shaking. Instead, it’s a reiteration of proper civility and the protocols that have proven most humane. In my experience, if the one doing the termination had a great night’s sleep before and immediately after this sad day, he or she needs sensitivity training. The good news is that those terminated eventually recover and many recognize that the experience led to a better beginning.

If you delay too long, or balk because of the negative consequences for those affected, the company may face even deeper cuts affecting more people in the future.

When discharges are done with an emphasis on empathy, you’ll likely be able to sleep through the night knowing that you did the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website www.TipsFromTheTop.info to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO