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The employer's guide: 15 things to avoid when letting an employee go

The employer's guide: 15 things to avoid when letting an employee go

Whether you're the bearer of the bad news, or you're on the receiving end, no one likes to be in a situation where layoffs are involved. Just as it is hard news for the employee, it will be for the manager carrying it out as well. 

As such, it is no doubt important that the process is carried out amicably and without burning any bridges.

Thus, if you are implementing any layoffs soon (although, we truly hope not), or sometime in the future, what exactly should you avoid in the process? To give you an idea, Headway Capital has curated an easy guide for before, during, and after you conduct the layoff, as summarised below.

Before letting an employee go

Once you're sure you'll be letting an employee go, it is important to act fast but, keep in mind to be well-prepared.

#1 Do not procrastinate

Jay Conger, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, says that if your team sees you stalling, it will look like you lack courage and leadership.

Pro tip: Set a date to meet with the employee as soon as possible.

#2 Don't forget to check it all over with HR

If you are an HR professional reading this, then you should already be aware of the proper process for a dismissal. If you aren't HR, then do be sure to check with your HR team on implementing a solid process that works for everyone involved.

Pro tip: Build a strong case for a speedy resolution by explaining any issues around the employee’s behaviour or performance.

#3 Don’t do it over email

Leadership coach Kristi Hedges says that employees react better when they can see body language
and pick up more information when someone is in front of them. 

Pro tip: Nonverbal communication is key if you want to avoid a confrontation, says Mark G. Frank, Ph.D. He suggests relaxing your stance, tilting your head to the side because it demonstrates vulnerability or curiosity about the other person.

#4 Don’t do it on a Friday

Greg Syzmanski, Director of HR at Geonerco Management, recommends doing it earlier in the week to give the employee time to start making new contacts.

This also helps avoid anxiety in your team
building up over the weekend.

Pro tip: Meet during lunch or at another time when the impact on company business can be minimised.

#5 Don’t fail to prepare

You've definitely heard the saying, "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Well, the same goes for preparations. In fact, HR consultant Amanda Haddaway says preparation is paramount. You should anticipate any questions the employee might have, then formulate and practise your answers. 

Remember to bring along with you any performance reviews, disciplinary actions, notes of any infractions, the employee's last paycheck, as well as severance unemployment benefits to the meeting.

screenshot 2020 10 23 at 9.17.43 am

During the meeting

How you conduct yourself in the meeting is crucial when letting someone go. Here are some things you should not do if you want the meeting to go smoothly.

#1 Don’t meet the employee alone

Arranging to have someone witness the meeting provides emotional support and a sense of professionalism for both parties, says Lisa Brown Morton, CEO of Nonprofit HR. 

Pro tip: Make sure a HR representative is present. 

#2 Don’t tell them that this is as hard on you as it is them

Stick to your notes and to the points you have prepared, and remember to:

  • Explain specifically why they are being let go
  • Express compassion to their emotions
  • Offer to discuss future jobs that would be a better fit

#3 Don’t give a long list of failures

Linda Richardson, founder of Richardson faculty at The Wharton School, says that by keeping your reasons for letting them go brief and clear, you will spare them from feeling any worse. Instead say: "We set objectives and unfortunately they weren't met in the time frame."

#4 Don’t get pulled into a long discussion

Richardson advises getting to the point early to make sure they know the decision is final. If you enter into a discussion, the employee might think it‘s more of a disciplinary meeting than a termination. 

Pro tip: Don’t respond to negative statements or apologise. Instead, refer back to your
prepared answers. 

#5 Don't make up excuses

Employee engagement consultant Richard Hadden warns against getting sucked into building a case
on nonexistent issues, as that would look like you‘re trying to justify your decision and that you‘re unsure. Instead, try saying something along the lines of: "This relationship isn’t working and it’s best for both parties to end it."

screenshot 2020 10 23 at 9.17.58 am

After letting the employee go  

It is essential that the ex-employee leaves the company with as little disruption to the rest of the team as possible. Here are the things you should avoid doing after you have let them go.

#1 Don’t make them gather their things alone

Executive coach Kathi Elster recommends assigning a member of your team to help the ex-employee gather their belongings. This will ensure the process is quick and will minimise possible repercussions. 

Pro tip: Assign someone with good sensitivity soft skills, as the person might be visibly upset.

#2 Don’t forget to remove access to important information

By immediately revoking the ex-employee's access to emails, servers, intranet and any company social media, you will eliminate any kind of security breach.

Pro tip: Work with your IT team to assess what information the ex-employee may have taken preceding the termination to see if it could affect the company in the long term.

#3 Don’t leave your other employees in the dark

Bryce Welker from Accounting Institute for Success says that when someone is let go, failing to communicate what happened to the rest of the team can cause motivation to drop and anxiety to rise.

Thus, it is important to inform your team as soon as possible that changes to workload will occur or of any new opportunities that might have opened up. 

#4 Don't leave room for gossip

While that is so, it is crucial that you stick to honesty when informing your team, in order to minimise any openings for speculations.

Pro tip: Set up a team meeting for employees to ask any further questions about the dismissal or share their point of view. 

#5 Don’t move on without rebuilding morale

Through it all, what's also key to note is to never burn any bridges, and to instead iron out any grievances between you and the employee. This would help re-build trust between both of you, while also reassuring the rest of the team that you do value their contributions.

Pro tip: Talk with each person individually and let them know why and how they are valued.

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Lead image and infographic / Headway Capital

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