The Challenge of Firing People

Regardless of which side of the desk that you’re on, being involved in a firing can have an enormous impact on your life. Obviously, losing one’s job is the most impactful but if you’re the unfortunate manager left to wield the axe, it can also be extremely stressful. Knowing that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle this distasteful task and using these techniques might not alleviate all of the negative emotions experienced, but it can get you a bit closer to a kinder encounter.

First of all, if you work in an organization where colleagues are frequently interacting, do not sequester the party about to be fired to an isolated area and “make them disappear”. Often, managers will take an employee out to lunch and fire them off-premise or other employees will seek out colleagues only to find they have been fired and no one has been informed. While this may seem efficient and drama free but it also sends a message to all those that remain that creates fear and mistrust.

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Next take responsibility for the decision. Even if everyone in the company disliked the person that is now being asked to leave, they have likely already suffered isolation with their peers so do not belabour the point. Wish them well and apologize for placing them in a job that was not the correct fit.
Try to empower the fired party with the greatest amount of dignity possible. Allow them to visit their desks and collect their belongings in their own time, not with a security guard standing over them. Encourage them to speak with their colleagues and say their goodbyes personally. Not only with the fired party appreciate this, if they choose to do so, but the other employees will notice the kind manner with which they are being treated and will respect management far more. The security walkout or the “dead man walking” approach adds insult to injury and is painful for both the fired party and those that are witnessing the departure.

If you are willing to provide a reference to the individual, clearly say so and reiterate the positive aspects of their performance that you would be open to discussing with other potential employers. This is based on the assumption that they have not treated the company with flagrant disregard such as fraud or misrepresentation or something similar.

Even with all of these tactics employed, any empathetic person will not enjoy firing anyone and these do not completely alleviate the difficulty. Treating the fired party with the utmost degree of dignity, however, is the best way to manage a difficult situation and it will leave everyone with their self-esteem intact.

Managing the process less kindly will not only leave the engaged parties with a nasty taste in their mouth but it will create a workplace environment that is not conducive to the highest levels of trust, loyalty and productivity. Employees that remain at the organization will be fearful and the culture will be fraught with whispered rumours and gossip, blatant self-promotion and self-preservation, which may result in backstabbing and maneuvering that undermines team cohesion. Even if you are not the primary decision maker when it comes to the dismissal process, recognizing that the leadership role you play in the process is significant and your humane handling of the task will be the last interaction that the employee will have with the company. Make it a good one!

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