You’re Fired, With Dignity: 7 Tips for Less Painful Terminations

In 1962 Neil Sedaka recorded his signature song, ‘Breaking Up is Hard to Do’. It’s as true today as it was back then and although Neil was singing about romantic splits, the sentiment holds true in the workplace. Terminations, unfortunately, are a part of business and are often very emotional experiences for those losing their jobs, as well as for those breaking the bad news. Despite what you may have seen on TV, the best way to handle the situation is not to let the words ‘you’re fired’ joyfully waft from your mouth like the smoke of a fine cigar. While terminations are never going to be a pleasant experience, some forethought can go a long way towards minimizing the stress for all involved. When faced with dismissing an employee, consider these seven tips:

1. Be Respectful. It should go without saying that losing their job is a potentially traumatic experience for an employee. Financial concerns will obviously flood their mind, but concerns about family, self-worth and identity are likely present as well. Even if the termination is the result of fraught relationships or gross misconduct, now is the not the time to be petty or to settle old scores. Treat the outgoing employee with dignity and empathy while avoiding excessive emotion or condescension.

2. Avoid Surprises. If the decision was the result of restructuring or downsizing concerns, surprise may be inevitable but terminations related to performance or disciplinary issues should never catch an employee off guard. Expectations for the employee should be clear from the get-go. Company conduct policies should be well documented and widely communicated. Previous infractions should have resulted in officially recorded rebukes. Termination meetings should be dignified but decisive; they shouldn’t seem like a negotiation.

3. Choose the Right Time and Place. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes. Have the conversation within the workplace but away from their desk. . Choosing a room near an exit allows them to avoid an awkward walk across the office floor. If security is not a concern, offer them a choice regarding whether to gather their belongings now, or later. Offer them a taxi if necessary. Fewer people are likely to be in the office if the meeting is held late in the day or close to the weekend. On the other hand, this will often mean less availability of support services. Consider the individual when making this decision.

4. Offer Support Services. Employee Assistance Professionals can help the departing team member cope with the shock that often accompanies an abrupt termination. In cases where mental health or addiction are of concern, health professionals can be particularly vital. Information on accessing these services should be made available.

5. Provide Severance Details. A good severance package can help provide financial peace of mind for the outgoing employee. Providing details at the time of dismissal will increase the likelihood that the departing party will view the event as respectful and well-handled, instead of cold and impersonal. In addition to the financial details of the severance, provide information on any training services that may be in place to help the outgoing employee land on their feet.

6. Manager Preparation. Most managers will not relish the task of firing an employee, so considering their emotional well-being is also of importance. While the employee’s manager should break the news, an HR person should also be in attendance to support and witness the proceedings. The dismissing manager should be in agreement with, or at least aware of, the reasons for the termination and should be given the opportunity to practice or role play the meeting in advance. In extreme cases, termination meetings can become violent so plans should be made for security to be in place in situations where this seems possible.

7. Supporting the Co-Workers. Workplace relationships can run very deep so it’s important to provide clarity and support for the entire staff. Employees may find themselves upset at the prospect of no longer seeing a friend, while also becoming concerned about pending revisions to workloads or their own job security. Management should promptly make the reasons for the termination clear as well as make themselves available to answer questions regarding the larger implications of the dismissal.

While workplace terminations are an inevitability of the business world, handling them with compassion and careful planning can make them easier for all affected parties.

Author Profile Picture

Henry Goldbeck

Henry E. Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruiting Inc, is a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and founded Goldbeck Recruiting in 1997. Since then, Henry has built the company's reputation as a leading headhunter and recruitment agency in sales, marketing, operations, engineering, and executive level positions across a variety of industries.

President & CEO at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc.