It’s generally much easier to hire than fire. Unfortunately, it’s hard to span a career in workforce management or project management without having to let an employee go at some point. The decision to terminate, the process of communicating that news to the employee and the way in which you share the situation with the rest of your team are some of the toughest scenarios you’ll experience as a manager.
Firing an employee creates challenges that go beyond the difficult process of showing someone the door. The remaining employees may not agree with your decision, or they may see it as foreshadowing and start questioning their own status with the company. How you communicate with workers following a termination may determine how they perceive your leadership and whether or not they will trust you moving forward.
Address it as soon as possible
Ultimately, you want to minimize the time that your staff dwells on another employee being let go, but that does not mean that simply ignoring the fact that it happened is a good idea. If you don’t acknowledge what is readily apparent to everyone else, it might look like you’ve got something to hide. Many HR and management experts agree that saying nothing is a bad idea.
In the absence of a convincing explanation for the termination, rumors will naturally begin to spread about what happened. This is detrimental to employee morale and undermines confidence in your leadership.
The most sensible solution is to immediately convene a team huddle and notify your employees of what happened. Don’t beat around the bush; start by being up front and telling your employees about the decision you’ve made. If assembling your mobile workforce for a face-to-face discussion isn’t feasible, then make the most of the technology at your disposal, using video and audio platforms, rather than informal emails or texts.
It’s imperative that you show respect for the terminated employee when discussing the situation with other workers. Even if the dismissal was clearly warranted, it’s unfortunate whenever somebody loses their job, and you need to set an example for the remaining workers by relaying the decision with courtesy. Your employees need to know that you did not take it lightly.
Especially in cases where the termination was related to performance, rather than bad behavior, it’s important to say a few positive things about the employee, and emphasize that you hope that they find another job that is a better fit for their skillset. It’s also worth noting that the decision will be beneficial in the long-term for both the employer and employee. Whatever you say, make sure that it’s genuine, as any insincere words will be apparent in your tone and delivery.
Your employees may deserve answers, but that doesn’t mean they need to hear all of the details. The former employee has a right to privacy. The one-on-one conversations had with their boss or manager throughout the course of their employment likely happened with the understanding that they wouldn’t be shared with co-workers. That implicit agreement should not be broken, despite the employee's departure.
Of course, balancing the need to protect the former employee’s privacy and the need to be transparent with your other workers can be tricky. Try and prepare exactly what you want to communicate to everybody and how you will respond to certain questions.
In some instances, it may be appropriate to inform the employees that the worker was let go because of a clear violation of a company policy or repeated bad behavior. Dismissals that are the result of performance, rather than malfeasance, can prove even more challenging to explain since it may not be as readily apparent to other employees that the decision (to let them go) was necessary. It’s important, however, that you explain your reasoning clearly and succinctly. This way, the former worker is not suspected of bad behavior, while current employees know that the decision was strictly a business one.
Finally, there may be legal consequences to saying the wrong thing following a dismissal, particularly if the dismissed employee files a wrongful termination lawsuit. Make sure to take the proper precautions (and consult HR if you have someone in that role) about what can and cannot be divulged regarding the circumstances that led to the termination.
Tell employees what it means
The remaining workers might agree with your decision to let an employee go, but they are also likely to be concerned about who is going to pick up the slack now that they’re short a colleague. Communicate to workers that you understand the potentially negative implications of the firing on their workload, and make it clear that it is not your intention to dump more on their plates.
Start a to do list about changes that need to be made in light of the former employee’s absence. Come up with a staffing plan – before you make the announcement – about how the company will deal with workforce scheduling in the coming days and weeks. If some of your remaining employees will have to deal with more work as a result, don’t sugarcoat it. In addition to being transparent about the inconvenience, you should also invite advice about how to best make that transition. For instance, ask if anybody is looking for an opportunity to earn some additional overtime pay.
Your employees are also likely to be stressed by the idea that they might be next. It’s important that you allay their concerns – employees will wonder whether more more cuts are coming. If applicable, be clear as to the firing being an isolated incident and not the start of downsizing or some other major shift in the workforce.
Seek to inspire
The dismissal of an employee is regrettable and can put a damper on morale, which is why it’s important for you to remain positive while delivering the news. While it’s critical to deal with the practical effects of the dismissal, such as staff scheduling and workforce planning, it’s more important in the long-term that employees find meaning in their work and feel good about the organization. To that end, when breaking the bad news to employees, take some time to reinforce the goals and values of the company, and ensure your workers that they are the foundation of that vision. Consider how team collaboration software and other tools can help unify and build stronger relationships among your co-workers.
The post-termination conversation with employees is often an unavoidable part of the job. However, doing it tactfully and thoughtfully will help make those conversations less painless, and hopefully, more rare.