Managers dread firing people: Managers with only a few months of experience hate letting one of their team go. Managers who've been in the business for decades dread it, too. But however they feel about it, it's part of the job: Sometimes you have to make the call, have the conversation, and get rid of someone. It's not going to be easy, but preparation can help. Here are a few tips on the modern firing process to make it a little easier.
If firing people isn't hard, then you're doing things wrong. The best workplaces are defined by careful hiring practices that secure talent and buy-in, and aim to reduce turnover. The worst are defined by managers who drop employees without a second thought. So if you feel bad about firing someone, you're on the right track. It means you need to examine your own management practices, coaching abilities, and hiring decisions – and grow because of your introspection. So don't shy away from the tough nature of the process. It's how managers grow.
Don't wait around. It's very easy for newer managers or supervisors to waffle when they know an employee needs to be let go but they really don't want to do it. The time comes when another probation period won't do any good and you need to identify it. This is not only beneficial for the company (if you're keeping someone on the team just because you feel guilty, the business is suffering), but also for the employee that you're firing. As Dan Finnigan, CEO of talent acquisition at Jobvite says, "If you keep someone in a job and the person can't do that job, you're hurting their career...There is a job out there that is a good fit for them, and they'd be better off to leave and go do that."
You can't and shouldn't carry firing decisions on your own. Follow protocol. Always check with Human Resources or whatever related branch is necessary in your organization and let them know your plans before you tell anyone else. You want to check out legal restrictions and other ramifications first – this is especially important for newer managers or after extension legislative changes in your industry. HR may also be able to offer more insight on employees that will allow you to refine your position. It's common for HR representatives or other managers to sit in on your firing conversation to offer support and corroboration as well.
It's tempting to waffle around when having the termination talk with your employee. But, for everyone's sake (and legal reasons), you can't be vague. You have to come to the point, and come to it quickly. Let the employee know right away that they will be leaving the company, and that it's going to happen today. You wouldn't believe how many employees walk away from these conversations without even knowing they are fired, because managers danced around the issue. You can't do this, so lead with the bad news, remember to use past tense when describing problems, and don't be afraid to end the conversation early.
Unless you have an urgent appointment, try to stick around. Many employees will have practical questions that you can answer concerning compensation, benefits, severance pay, and much more. If you don't know the right answers, refer them to HR or your equivalent. If things get too emotional or heated, distance yourself and leave if you have to. But refuse the itch to "hurry it up" and escape.
You may or may not want to say, "I'm sorry," to the ex-employee (some legal departments throw fits whenever managers do this), but you should try to show some compassion. Remind employees of what they did well and positions where you think they may be successful. Talk about providing a reference or other help. If the termination is outside of your hands, it's all right to accompany them out of the building as well, for a final, public goodbye.
Does this work for all employees? No, but the terminations where these strategies don't fly are rare, and you'll usually recognize them at once.
Your whole team just saw you fire someone – you can't hide that. So don't try. Plan for a team meeting afterward and give them the facts. You cannot and should not share why an employee was fired, but you should briefly confirm the termination, redirect any employees who need to cover the absence, and perhaps give an update on recruitment and when you expect the position will be filled. It's natural for people to start worrying about their own place in the company as well, so you may want to reassure them (if appropriate).
Now it's time to look ahead. Look at this as an opportunity to tweak the position description with more accurate or updated information, and contact recruitment specialists in your company to talk about a hiring timeline. If you are encountering a talent vacuum for a particular position, consider bringing in external resources, such as a specialized recruitment team that can help bring in the applicant pool you want, not the pool you are stuck with.