Termination of an employee always includes stress for everyone involved. Not only for the employee being let go, but potentially for the person responsible for delivering the news, and those that work closest to the termed employee.
Here are some suggestions that can help minimize the risk of delivering and sharing the news in a safer way for all involved.
How to support the employee being let go:
The person terminated deserves to know the reason. If the reason is ambiguous, it is difficult for a person to understand what is happening, and may delay their ability to move forward professionally.
Avoid terming someone on a Friday or at the end of the day when possible. Support services such as employee assistance, unemployment office, and other agencies are likely unavailable on the weekends and evenings, which may leave the termed employee in distress.
Provide a safe space for everyone in the room. This usually means away from the employee’s actual workspace when possible. The space should also include someone outside the room, for the one delivering the news protection if the employee were to get physically upset. Have items readily available to support any questions, such as EAP information, benefits information, severance, or termination packages if available, and tissues.
The message should be delivered in a respectful and dignified tone. Despite the reason for the termination, remember you are dealing with another human being who has their own set of problems. The person delivering the message should be well prepared, to remain calm, compassionate, and considerate to the employee on the receiving end.
Provide options when possible. Have arrangements set up as when the employee may collect their personal belongings, speak to their co-workers, or consider other options that may give the termed employee some control over the situation.
How to support the co-workers:
Develop a communication plan. Ensure that those working closest to the termed employee hear the news from their leader first. Either meet with them as a group or individually. The amount of information shared is restricted to ensure privacy, but the leader should be prepared to answer employee concerns including:
How will the work be reassigned?
Will the position be replaced or repurposed?
Is their job at risk?
Can I contact the termed employee?
As questions or concerns come up, the leader should be available the days following the termination. As a leader, you should plan to be available to correct rumors, lower anxiety, and process the loss of what happened.
Create opportunities for team building or appreciation. Consider writing personal notes to each employee, or team member appreciating their work and dedication to the organization. This can help restore faith in the team and diminish fears or concerns about their job.
How to support the person delivering the news:
Ensure everyone is on board with the decision being made to terminate. This means talking about the difficult decision in advance. Talk to stakeholders as appropriate, refer to your performance management policy and or handbook as a guide to ensure all steps have been addressed and the basis for the termination is confirmed.
Prepare for the meeting. Although rehearing the meeting, may feel awkward, running through various scenarios in advance will help reduce your anxiety, and provide clarity to best support the termed employee. If you are reading from your notes, you will likely come off unprepared, demonstrate a lack of compassion, and are less likely to be able to adapt to the emotions in the room.
Consider your safety. Pay close attention to your gut instinct. Violence should be taken seriously and addressed in advance of any termination. Consider who is in the room, for your safety, and the privacy of the employee being termed. Have an exit strategy, consider notifying the non-emergency police line in advance of termination, and or have someone on standby outside the room if things were to escalate.
Self-Care. Although it goes without saying, consider your psychological well-being before and after you deliver the news. Reach out to your employer assistance provider (EAP), or other support systems as needed. Remind yourself this is not about you.
At the end of the day, remind yourself is an uncomfortable situation for all parties involved that, unfortunately, is a part of working life. Empathy and dignity will go a long way in making a stressful situation manageable for everyone involved.
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