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How To Say, “You’re Fired”

It’s Not Fun. But Done Right, It Can Be Minimally Painful.

Giving an employee the pink slip can be a gut wrenching experience. But when you have a poor performer on your hands, you can’t afford to waste your time or money by keeping them around.

To set the tone for the conversation, it is important that you act professionally and maintain your composure, even if you feel an employee has taken advantage of you. Be succinct and resolute and treat the person with dignity. Alison Brod, CEO Alison Brod Public Relations, tells CBS News that thanking the person for their contributions and saying something like, “I’m sorry this position wasn’t a good fit for you,” can soften the blow. If you can become good at firing people (as awful as that sounds) you will rarely experience backlash from angry former employees.

And while empathy is good, don’t sugarcoat or confuse the situation.

You should treat the person with dignity. However, that doesn’t mean you should gloss over the issues involved.

Here are a few tips for a smooth exit:

1. Try not to make it a total surprise.

Firing someone should be the last step in an overall review process. The poor performer should have been warned previously that they aren’t meeting your standards. “The biggest mistake employers make is that they don’t give employees a chance to improve behavior,” says John Zambito, president of Zambito Executive Search in Columbus, Ohio. You should have been specific about what they needed to improve, as measurably as possible with criteria such as:

·      Increasing sales by five percent

·      Greeting customers warmly (not the easiest to measure, but not impossible)

·      Being on time every day

Have the employee sign something that show they understand and agree to the action required. If you’d rather be informal, make sure another manager joins each meeting as a witness. Give them at least a few weeks to improve their performance. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be shocked that they’re being fired, and the hard numbers (“you didn’t increase sales,” “you were late six times”) will speak for themselves. Human behavior specialists tell us that tasks do not get completed for one of two reasons “can’t or won’t”, be sure that you the employer have given them the tools to eliminate can’t.

2. Not on a Friday.

The old wisdom was that Friday was the best day to let someone go, so they could have the weekend to recover. Today’s thinking is that a Friday firing leads to two days of withdrawal, depression, or worse. “Monday morning is best,” says Dr. Carl Greenberg, President of Pragmatic HR. “You want to quickly transition the person from working for you to the process of looking for another job, which is usually done during the week.”

As for the time of day, midmorning is considered thoughtful. It allows the employee to head out to lunch and get support from friends. There’s also the end of the day, so the person can leave quickly without causing undue gossip.

3. Do it in a private area.

You should never fire someone in a public place. And while it might sound nice, taking a person out to lunch and firing them is also a bad idea. Meeting behind closed doors is best, so no one feels humiliated or publicly exposed. If you can do it on neutral territory, like a conference room, that’s even better because you can both leave when it’s over.

4. Keep it short and sweet.

Don’t drag out the meeting, and make it clear that there is no room for discussion on the matter. Something like, “We’ve talked about your performance, and it’s not working out. Your job is terminated.” Keep the conversation strictly on performance. Remind them that these are the consequences for not meeting expectations, and it’s time to go. If the employee refuses to accept what you’re saying, keep emphasizing that the decision has been made and it is irreversible.

5. Lay out all of their options.

After the conversation is over, you should brief them on any important information related to their termination, such as details of their insurance benefits, unemployment options, and final paycheck (it’s a good idea to have this on hand at the meeting). This may be the last time you speak with this person, so give them the information they need to move on.

If you give severance, ask for something in return. Companies often request that employees sign waivers of their legal rights in exchange for extra pay, commissions, outplacement or other discretionary severance packages. Some states give employees up to 21 days to consider such offers.

While you’re conducting the meeting (or shortly after), have company passwords changed. Collect office keys and any company credit cards as well.

6. Let them leave immediately and schedule a time to come back for their things.

There is not usually a good reason for a terminated employee to stick around. Schedule a time before or after your office usually opens for them to return and gather their things with relative privacy (under your supervision, of course).

7. Talk to other staffers.

Let other employees know about the termination. Give them the reasons without antipathy or confidential details. People will want reassurance about their own jobs and the state of the company.

What not to say to the person you’re firing:

“Let me know how I can help.” You might actually mean this, at least at first. Unless you plan to be a solid reference or you’re willing to make calls on the employee’s behalf, don’t offer help. It’s an empty sentiment. And you’re confusing the message you just delivered, which may give the employee grounds for legal action.

“I had no choice.” There are always other options. Why not tolerate mediocrity a little longer? Termination need not be the only viable solution, so don’t suggest that it is.

“You didn’t try hard enough.” Hold employees accountable, but don’t kick them in the gut. When employees feel attacked, they might fight back.

“This is just as hard for me as it is for you.” Uh, no it isn’t. You would not want to be in their shoes, so don’t ask a freshly fired employee to feel your pain.

“I know how you feel.” Unless you have been fired recently, you don’t know how the person feels. If you have been fired recently, now is not the time to share that experience.

“I’m sorry to have to do this.” This patronizes someone you’re hurting, however justified it is that they’re being let go. This comment rubs salt in the wound. But again, don’t be cold and uncaring. There’s a happy medium. You can candidly and carefully explain the reasons and still offer sympathy.

There is no easy or perfect time to fire anyone. But don’t rush into the meeting. Think it through and prepare yourself. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes. The more candid and respectful you are, the easier it will be.

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