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Management Skills

Terminating an Employee: What Managers Should and Shouldn’t Do


By Josh Young Aug 01, 2017

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Terminating an employee is perhaps one of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable activities that you will ever perform as a manager. Depending on the situation, you are quite possibly taking an active role in one of the worst days of that worker's year, if not life -- and that is a truly harrowing concept.

However, there are obviously times when an employee needs to go -- when they are underperforming, are violating policy, or are just not the right fit for the position or company.

Need to fill a recent job opening? Read: 3 Ways to Find the Right New Hire for Your Company Culture.

And while you and your workers would prefer to avoid these situations, they are unfortunately rather common. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 8.2 million workers were laid off or "discharged" in the first five months of this year alone.

What Should You Remember When Terminating an Employee?

Coordinate with HR

Any termination should occur at the end of a well-documented review or disciplinary process. And while you'll ideally have compiled the necessary information and held the appropriate discussions already, a final check-in with your human resources (HR) department is always a sound idea.

Your HR team can also provide additional context that might play into your timeline. For example, if the outgoing employee's pension is set to fully vest a week after the planned termination date, that might raise some red flags. And of course, you'll want a member from their team sitting in on the final conversation with the employee being terminated.

Keep it short and simple

When you have "the conversation," don't drag it out. Make it clear from the beginning that the employee's services have been terminated. Also, briefly explain -- in one or two sentences -- why they've been let go from the company (e.g., poor performance, policy violations).

However, while you are being brief, don't forget your humanity or compassion. The terminated employee has just received some unpleasant, potentially shocking news, and they may need a few moments to collect their thoughts.

They also might not be at their best and respond angrily. In these moments, you need to demonstrate the grace and diplomacy that is the necessity of all good managers.

Notify your team

After the employee has been informed, you need to speak with the remaining team and notify them of the termination. Do not share any privileged information or details behind the decision. Simply inform them that the person is no longer employed at your business.

If you are concerned that your other workers may be worried about their personal job security, you can clarify that the person was terminated "for cause" and assure them that positions are not being eliminated.

What Should You Avoid When Terminating an Employee?

Acting in the moment

The likelihood that you will need to terminate an employee "on the spot" will be low. Of course, if the worker is caught in blatant violation of company policies that could endanger the health or safety of coworkers, customers, or the business, swift action must be taken. But if your decision to fire an employee is motivated by emotion, it's probably better to wait.

Given the litigious nature of modern society and the potential legal ramifications of any termination, you need to approach these decisions deliberately and cautiously. Your company should have a clearly-defined termination process that includes regular performance appraisals and that offers coaching opportunities for problem employees to improve.

Similarly, your management team should be well-trained and prepared to follow these guidelines and comply with any local regulations regarding termination.

Dragging things out

Any notice of termination should take effect immediately with the employee leaving the premises right after the discussion. Having an ex-worker hang around the office for the rest of the day or week will often be disruptive and have a negative impact on morale.

A protracted termination will also provide the employee with increased opportunity for their lesser impulses to take over, such as undermining existing projects or stealing or damaging company property.

The Next Step

Ideally, being able to effectively, compassionately, and properly terminate an employee will be a rarely-called-upon skill, but it is a skill that your management team will need to develop. By equipping them with the right training and processes, your managers can more easily handle these difficult conversations, leading to a better outcome for everyone involved.

If you'd like to learn how we can help equip your managers to handle complicated responsibilities, such as terminations, request a demo of our performance management and hiring courses today.

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