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Termination Best Practices: Preserving Dignity


Terminating an employee is never an easy task, no matter how many times you have done it. When making the decision to terminate an employee, keep in mind that your primary goal is to maintain the employee’s dignity throughout this difficult process while also balancing the needs of your organization. If you have a Human Capital (“HC”) department, it is important that you engage them in the process. HC can help shape the process by: ensuring that company policies and procedures are followed, building tools to guide your conversation, and, assisting in minimizing potential damages by working with legal professionals (internal or external) to your organization. If you do not have an HC group, you should ensure that there is a group of designated individuals in your organization who are trained and knowledgeable about your termination processes and procedures.

Terminations are inevitable in an organization – where there are employees, there will eventually be the need to terminate someone, at some point in time. Following a defined process/ conducting your due diligence will help make the process smoother. Once you identified a performance problem with an employee, speak with your HC representative or a more senior level individual in your organization, if you do not have HC. This individual can assist you by:

  • Provide coaching techniques;
  • Developing performance improvement plans to assist in correcting the employee’s inefficiencies;
  • Creating a well-documented file (in the case you have to go to litigation); and,
  • Working with you to create a smoother overall, process.

When conducting a termination, complete it with professionalism - this is a crucial factor. While on one hand you want to preserve as much of the terminated employee’s dignity as possible, on the other hand you need to keep the remaining work force calm and focused on work. Whenever a company completes a termination, the employees who remain with the organization go through an array of emotions. Often they start off shell shocked, and then follow this with by fear – wondering if their job is next. This causes anxiety – they start to believe that they are being watched through the microscope. Then productivity declines and the company morale diminishes. In order to help alleviate the chaos, communicate, communicate, communicate! While you cannot disclose the performance reasons for an employee’s departure, you should not hide the fact that the employee is no longer with the company, that only raises suspicion. Issuing a departure memo/ email or having a quick staff meeting can help your remaining employees understand the situation. If further terminations will be occurring (i.e. you are undergoing layoffs), you should be open about potential further cuts – the worst thing you want to do is say that no-one else will lose their jobs and then turn around and terminate another group of individuals.

Below are some guidelines for completing a termination:

Handle the Termination with Professionalism and Respect. There is no right time for this event to take place. Once you have determined the employee is going to be terminated - do it right away. There is a good chance that the employee already has an inclination that this is coming his/ her way. Pick a time where there is little to no colleagues around to witness the termination being completed.

Keep the Termination Dialogue Straight to the Point. The termination conversation should last only 3-5 minutes, outlining the important pieces of information such as: reason (s) for termination; details of the termination package and time frame of sign back. This information should all be prepared ahead of time through a script developed by your HC representative, lawyer, etc.

Set the Expectations of the Terminated Employee. Encourage the employee to seek Legal Counsel. Advise them of the sign back dates for the termination package including letters and disclosures.

Close the Dialogue with Empathy. Don’t take things personally. Terminated employees will often say some very terrible things during the termination meeting, directed at the terminating manager. Do not get into an argument rather continue to demonstrate the professionalism of your organization. Advise them that any questions that may come to mind after they have left will be handled through an HC or designated representative. Ensure the former employee that your goal is to make this difficult transition as smooth as it can be given the circumstances. Thank them for the time they worked for you and then escort them from the building. Offering to shake their hand as they leave is a good thing but be prepared, they may not reciprocate.

Keep in mind, a terminated employee usually will not have positive things to say about their former company and/ or bosses. A way to give your organization leverage in the market place is twofold: The first to handle all terminations compassionately, honestly, and with integrity. Secondly, communicate internally with your organization about the employee departure and provide guidance as required.

To learn more about Termination Best Practices, please contact Leslie Dornan, Director – MNP Consulting Services.

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