Back when he was running GE, Jack Welch famously argued that each year you should fire the lowest performing 10% of your workforce. And while we don’t subscribe to that philosophy, we do believe that regardless of who you are, it pays to let an employee go the right way. Because this is a delicate subject, we connected with Rita Price, former VP, Human Resources for Flight Network and currently an independent consultant with LifeLabs. She offered us some practical advice on how to transition an employee out graciously.
How to Let an Employee Go
According to Price, it’s best not to schedule the meeting too far in advance. She also recommends letting the employee go earlier in the workday. This allows the employee to collect themselves and plan how to tell their spouse or family members. It also means that you have time to clearly communicate with your team about the decision, removing speculation and helping to ensure that things progress with some degree of normalcy the next day.
By giving the person being fired input into how they depart you help minimize their feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability. For example, would they prefer to return to their desk, and pack up their items, or leave and return later? Price says, “Not letting the person go back to their desk or say goodbye (if this is what they want), can impact the termination and how other employees view you.”
After Delivering the News
The reporting manager or HR manager should also leave the room after delivering the news because, “Sometimes [the person you’re letting go] needs a moment to take it all in,” Price says. She recommends giving the employee their formal letter of dismissal and severance package at this time. She also says:
- At this point don’t get into the details of cause or severance as the employee is likely in shock.
- Do not prompt them to sign anything – it can lead to a future accusation that they were forced to sign documents under duress.
- Give the individual two weeks to look over the letter – allows conversations to occur from a less heightened emotional state.
- Price recommends calling the person a few hours after they’ve left to ensure they arrived home safely.
You cannot over-prepare for a meeting like this according to Price. Double check the formal letter, plan what each person in the meeting will say and how stakeholders will be notified afterwards. This can help smooth the transition and prevent legal repercussions down the road.
If there’s a specific reason that the employee is being let go, then disclose it to them. Price emphasizes, “If you decide to terminate someone, there should be no debate.” This can become challenging when someone is being let go without cause. But by letting the meeting turned into a discussion or argument over their termination you risk further angering the individual and potentially laying the groundwork for future legal action.
It’s imperative that you communicate as soon as possible with the rest of the team. Transitioning someone out can leave the rest of the team feeling vulnerable and negatively impact morale. Price recommends opening up the lines of communication immediately by holding a staff meeting. She says, “Don’t focus on why it happened, but on how [the team] will move forward.” A formal email should also be sent to company stakeholders.
Letting someone go is never easy. You’re delivering life altering news. Don’t schedule the meeting too far in advance. Prepare well and make sure to offer the terminated employee a chance to exit with dignity. Maintain the productivity of your team by communicating about the transition as soon as possible. By letting someone go graciously, you increase your chances of preserving the company’s reputation, your personal brand and your team’s morale – making it worth your while to do it the right way.
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