How to fire an employee: 4 ways to make the process kinder

Make the dreaded moment less painful for everyone.

7 min read

The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.

How to fire an employee: 4 ways to make the process kinder
How to fire an employee: 4 ways to make the process kinder

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of my job is having to fire someone. Even the word “fire” makes people scared and look down. But as any business leader knows, there are times when firing someone is the best thing you can do for your company. After all, it is quite common. According to a recent Harris poll , 40 percent of Americans have lost a job. So how do you make the process more enjoyable for both the employee and the person who has to fire you? Doing it with respect.

A study of nearly 20,000 employees around the world, conducted by Tony Schwartz and Harvard Business Review , found that the most important thing for employees is to be treated with respect by their boss. They rated it higher than recognition and appreciation, providing helpful feedback or opportunities for learning, growth, and development.

This respect should extend to when things are not working. Here are my four strategies for ending a contract with compassion and integrity.

1. Make sure you offer opportunities for improvement first

At my company, Hint, we have two types of layoffs: those based on performance and those based on attitudes. If a staff member is not meeting certain criteria, we don't let him go just like that. We make sure your boss has an extensive conversation with the employee to let him know what he is doing wrong. Together, they create strategies to modify this. Thus, the employee is aware of their performance and becomes part of the solution.

Then we give the employee a period of time, usually between 30 and 90 days, and we schedule reviews in the interim to evaluate if that person can continue in the company. Usually everyone makes progress because their goals are broken into small tasks. A University of Michigan study found that 76 percent of participants who wrote down their goals and actions and offered weekly help to a friend, achieved their goals. But if the employee has shown no progress at the end of the trial period, then it's time to have the difficult conversation.

We pay particular attention to when an employee displays a negative attitude or exhibits toxic behavior. Recent research in the Harvard Business Review shows that a bad employee can corrupt an entire team. The study looked at the way employees behave when they are around someone negative, and found that 37 per cent of them were more likely to do something dishonest if they worked with someone who had a history of bad behavior.

If this happens, we have a transparent but friendly conversation with this employee who has a bad attitude. We say something like “When you say this, your attitude affects the company in this way.” Or we ask, “How can we help you start sentences differently so they are better received?”

2. Consider all the alternatives

Before we fire someone, we make sure there is no other position in the company where they could be happier. There are times when an employee doesn't realize they are about to tire until you have an honest conversation about their results. I usually suggest a lateral movement or to another department when I notice signs of dissatisfaction. They may have a great set of skills, but if they've been in sales for years, a marketing vacancy can offer them a new air. Or they may be in the logistics area and want a change of profession.

Regardless of the course of action, it is critical that bosses document everything to have evidence of how things are not working. Empower your managers to take detailed notes of a problem or attitude with an employee so that everything is in writing. Telling someone “not a good fit for the company” can lead to legal problems, so focus on performance or behavior problems.

3. Work with RH to ensure dismissal is done correctly

My company has just doubled. That means that I no longer have to personally fire anyone, this is already under the jurisdiction of RH and the director of the area. However, I work closely with her to get involved in the process, and I suggest doing the same at your startup. Regardless of what position your employees hold, a good leader needs to be aware of whether someone is not doing their part of the job, and trying to understand the reasons.

If you decide to fire an employee, develop a termination plan with RH to make sure you're complying with the law and your company's procedures. You may want to have someone from HR present at every meeting you have to discuss the future of someone in the company. Or you may want to hire someone outside to do an independent review.

4. Be as transparent as possible

When you've exhausted your options and it's time to let it go, do it quickly. Be as clear and detailed as possible. Explains the logistics of your payments, and the material or equipment of the company and how it should be delivered. Make sure you are not confusing him or that it seems like you can change your mind. Transparency is essential. Mistrust among employees is widespread, according to the ' Work and Well-Being ' survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2014. This research found that almost a quarter of employees do not trust their boss, and almost half believe that their boss is open and direct with them.

Be prepared to answer any questions during the last meeting together, and remember to be empathetic. The ideal is to make the dismissal at the end of the work day, when you still have the opportunity to accompany that person on the way out. At Hint, we help bridge the gap between an employee's last day and their next career move. We discuss what the transition will look like and help as much as possible, from introducing you to other companies, offering referrals, and keeping communication open after the layoff. Not all layoffs will be amicable, but it doesn't necessarily mean that things have to be burned along the way.

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