One of the most difficult conversations leaders often have with employees is when your must tell an employee you’re parting ways.
I know this from personal experience. Early in my career, my manager made me lay off an employee due to a slowdown in business. She threw me into the lion’s den with him, knowing that I had never done this before because she didn’t want to do the dirty deed herself. As soon as I was done, she called me into her office and did the same thing to me. Needless to say, we did not remain friends. I know now, things didn’t have to end this way.
There comes a time in most leader’s lives when they must let an employee go; it simply part of the job. This situation might occur due to a slowdown in business or perhaps due to poor work performance. No matter the reason, these conversations are certainly one of the most challenging work conversations for all parties involved. Here are five tips to ease some of the discomforts for all involved.
Show some respect
Being terminated can be as stressful as a death in the family or a divorce. Recognize that this will be a challenging moment for the employee, and do your best to be respectful. I always advise my clients to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. If you were on the receiving end of this conversation, how would you like to be treated?
Enter the conversation prepared
I’ve heard too many stories of managers bumbling through a termination and then explaining to the company’s lawyer why they told an employee who was being terminated for cause and how much the employee would be missed.
Think about what you plan on saying before you meet with the employee. Jot down some notes, and if need be, you can unobstrusively glance down at your bullet points during the conversation.
Be brief and direct
A common mistake made by managers conducting terminations is to go back through the entire work history to explain why someone is being let go. This is extremely painful and unnecessary. Your goal is to have the employee leave the meeting in one piece, right? If you’ve had a previous discussion, briefly summarize what took place and explain the reason for today’s meeting. Resist the temptation to sugarcoat your message, or you will cause confusion and leave a bad taste in the employee’s mouth.
Let the employee know why he’s being let go when his last day is and any other information he may need as he transitions out of the organization. Allow the employee time to process what you have just said. If he keeps pushing you to go over issues that occurred months ago, politely decline by telling him that you are not going to go through the entire file again, as you’ve had these discussions.
Keep your eyes on the endgame
The goal of every employee termination is to transition the employee out of the organization with as little fanfare as possible. This can be done when you shift the power back to the employee. This occurs when the employee feels they have a choice. There are often situations where it’s possible to offer the employee an opportunity to resign rather than being fired. This approach allows the employee to save face. They can go home and tell their partner they just quit their job, rather than being faced with having to tell a loved one they’ve been fired.
In the end, the employee gets to leave with their dignity, and you don’t have to worry about others in the organization looking at you as if you’re the Grim Reaper.
Do what you can to ease the transition. They’ll be many times, when due to no fault of the employee, you will have to let them go. When this occurs, be sure to offer to extend your network on their behalf. Advocate for outplacement assistance and additional pay to ensure the employee has a soft landing.
It’s never an easy task to let an employee go (especially one you had a chummy relationship with). However when done right, you can both walk away and remain cordial. Who knows, you may still retain a relationship, when all is said and done.
Roberta Matuson is the president of Matuson Consulting. Over the last few decades, Roberta has helped leaders in highly regarded companies, including General Motors, New Balance, and Microsoft, and small- to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She’s the author of the newly released, Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work.