I have always counselled that good managers are not born, they are made. That being a good manager is learning to do well those things that do not come naturally. Terminating employees as part of a downsizing, rightsizing or however you want to call it is very difficult and stressful; and certainly to do it well not something you ever learned to do naturally.
This is particularly true when the primary reason for the terminations is to reduce company costs to help ensure it continues as a going concern; and may have nothing to do with employee performance, loyalty or any other measure.
The following are some tips from Advantage Tech’s 35 years of helping a variety of companies, managers and executives navigate this process with the best outcome possible.
- Recognize that you are not alone in feeling tension/stress before you take action. If you didn’t, you would not be a normal compassionate human being. No such person actually wants or looks forward to this happening. Many of my corporate clients get very little sleep, if any, the night before it happens. You should role-play what you want to say. Use point form, but don’t memorize. Just winging it is not the best way at all to proceed.
- You should be upfront and honest about why this action is taking place. The severed employees must be told that it is not their fault; that they have done nothing wrong and their performance was neither an issue nor their loyalty. Remember, it is even more stressful for the employee. Our psychologists have advised that of the 100 most stressful situations one can face, being terminated or fired at work ranks # 10. We don’t like to use the word ‘fired”; but frankly that is what it is. Fired, terminated, severed, downsized; it’s the same feeling for the employee.
The employees will need to continue their careers, but they need to recover, to heal. Be sensitive that the termination causes most employees’ level of self-confidence to be less. As a result, they are more easily defensive at an interview when a question is asked: “Not everyone lost their job; how come you did if you’re as good as your resume suggests?” The more honest and upfront and sensitive you are, the quicker the employee will accept what has happened, heal and be able to move forward.
- While it is recommended that you have one witness in the room with you for the termination, pick the best person to be there with you. Ensure the utmost privacy. The walls have ears, and you need to ensure only those with a need to know hear what is being said. The Supreme Court of Canada has discussed this in a landmark case when dealing with the need to ensure the termination is done with dignity.
Have boxes ready if needed; and give the employee a choice if they want to pack their personal effects and leave, come back at a later time after hours or have you pack and courier to their preferred address. Not all employees need to be ushered out the door; ask if this is a person who can be left alone to leave when ready.
Ensure your IT department is informed in advance, to secure your electronic data from deletion by a disgruntled now-ex-employee.
- Be honest at all times with the employee as to why they are being severed. Give close attention to the communications with the remaining employees and outside people such as clients/customers. There are serious legal consequences telling anything other than a consistent story as to why someone is no longer an employee.
- You should provide a Career Transition Program for these deserving employees; particularly during these more difficult times than usual. People need to learn to market themselves at a much higher level to be successful with limited opportunities; and marketing oneself is not what they learned in school.
If an employee has not been in the job market (ie been on your staff) for five or ten years, their resume-writing and job-hunting are woefully out of date!
- We recommend that a Career Transition representative NOT be one of the witnesses and participate in the termination itself. The separated employee needs to bond with that person; and if sitting in at the termination, it becomes very difficult for that to happen. For the same reason, this person should NOT be the one to help the employee pack personal effects.
We recommend, however, that for larger downsizings, one or more employees of the Career Transition Consultants be on site to deal with any complications that could arise and generally help with the process. We usually have one of our psychologists be available.
- You need to be completely organized as to each step, including termination letter, properly proofed and dated, offer of severance to be legally sound and usually a release & indemnity form. Many employers and employees still think the legal amount of severance is just the amount required to be given by Labor Standards. That is not true unless an employee signed an employment contract and agreed to limit severance to that amount only.
We can help with all correspondence, determination of severance, preparation of release form. As well, to ensure no leaks, often we prepare all legal and other documentation off premises.
We provide our clients with a complete check list (our checklist has 85 items!) to ensure the process is as risk-free and painless as possible.
See our updated Career Transition brochure for more information. Please call or e-mail me if you have any questions.