When the job market is as rough as it is now, it’s inevitable that companies are going to have to downsize in order to keep their profits up. It’s a harsh reality, but certainly one that employers must face head on. It’s much more difficult to let an employee go for the sole reason of keeping the company’s finances up, but when you have to fire someone based on poor performance the situation can get very sticky. There is certainly a right and a wrong way in this instance. If you fire someone the wrong way, it can end in hurt feelings on both ends and perhaps even a lawsuit. If you fire someone the correct way, it’s still difficult but at least you went about it the right way. So how does an employer fire an employee, and more importantly how do they deal with possible feelings of guilt that go along with it?
Letting an employee go, be it for performance or financial reasons, is never an easy thing to do. However, if you are firing someone based on performance you should make sure you gave this employee a chance to improve. Firing an employee should be your last option. Before you permanently let this person go, you should have had a talk with them to inform them that their performance has not been up to par. Perhaps they are constantly late, constantly miss deadlines, are insubordinate or just aren’t working up to the potential you need from this position. Either way, before you let them go you need to give them the chance to rectify their wrongs. If they then fail to step up to the plate then you simply have to let them go.
That is where the next step comes into play. If you do in fact have to let this employee go permanently, then you need to have firm reasoning as to why. This is where your original warning is useful. In that original meeting, you should have set goals for this employee to reach in order to show their importance and competence. If those goals are not met, you have specific data as to why you need to let this employee go. You simply cannot base a firing off of the fact that you don’t like this employee or they rub you the wrong way. Without specific data and hard core reasons to back up your decision, you can put yourself into a lot of trouble.
When it comes time to talk to this employee and to inform them that you have to let them go, you need to make sure you are doing it in a private area. Walking up to their desk in the middle of the day while their coworkers are around is definitely not the way to go. It can cause embarrassment on their side and guilt on yours. In order to ensure that you are executing this the right way, keep your conversation private and between the two of you. It’s also important that you have another person in the room with you. This is a way of covering your back and making sure you have a witness to attest to what you said to this employee and how you let them go. Without a witness in the room, the employee may try to skew your words or claim that you harassed them or went about it in the wrong way. You don’t know how this person is going to react to you letting them go and you don’t know what they will do after you have fired them, so make sure you have another witness in the room.
By the same token, you don’t know what this person will try to do if they want to retaliate. During your conversation, or very shortly afterward, you should have someone change all of the important passwords so the company’s information is secure. As stated earlier, you can’t be sure you know how this person will react and they may take their anger out on the company in a “I’m taking everyone down with me” exit. Take the necessary precautions and change the passwords and renege any access this employee had to data. Although this seems a bit harsh, it needs to be doe.
When you are giving this employee the news that you have to let them go, it’s important to be empathetic to their situation. Letting someone go is hard and it doesn’t feel great. However, if it’s necessary for the company it’s also important not to sugarcoat the message. If you have to fire someone based on performance, this is their fault. They had a chance to rectify their issues, but fell short.
Perhaps they just weren’t the best fit for the company; maybe they didn’t grasp the concept of the position fast enough; maybe they’re always late. Either way, you have to let them go and it’s not fun for either side. Be empathetic and understanding, but also let them know exactly why this is happening. Don’t make up some other story just because you feel bad dealing the harsh reality to them. This can get sticky, so make sure you keep it brief. You have already discussed what needed to be changed and it’s just not working out. Simple.
One of the most interesting things I have learned over the course of researching this topic is that most HR professional say that firing an employee on a Friday is a bad idea. It’s best to do it on a Monday. The reasoning behind this is that if you let someone go on a Friday, they have the whole weekend to think about it and get angry. If it’s on a Monday, they have the remainder of the week to get started on their new job search. It’s an interesting fact, but certainly one that can be utilized if you are a manager that has to let an employee go.
Whether it be because your company has to downsize or because this employee’s performance is not up-to-par, letting someone go is never an easy thing. However, you need to realize that either way this is something that needs to be done for the benefit of the company. If you have to fire employees because of downsizing, then realize that without doing this the business, and your job as well, will fail. If it’s their performance then letting them go is for the benefit of the company and productivity. It’s not your fault. Knowing this can make dealing with firing an employee a little easier.