How to Conduct a Respectful Termination

If you are a people manager long enough, at some point you will more than likely have to terminate an employee. This may be due to a code of business conduct violation, poor performance, or a even a position elimination.

Terminations are never easy, no matter the reason. You are taking away another person’s livelihood, whether you feel they have “earned” it or not. If you become immune to the emotional ramifications, it is probably time that you move out of management.

Here are some tips to help the process go as smoothly as possible:

  1. Work with your local HR representative to prepare for the meeting. You should practice the messaging in advance. The message should be brief and to the point. For example: “Tom — We have some bad news for you. Due to budgetary cutbacks, re-organization, etc., we have decided to eliminate your position effective immediately.”
  2. If your organizations supports it, try to always offer severance in cases of poor performance and position elimination. The employee will feel more secure knowing they will have income coming in for a set period as they search for a new role.
  3. Book a private conference room that is ideally in an off-traffic area. Avoid all-glass conference rooms that do not allow the employee to have dignity. Some employees will break down and cry or become angry. Other employees should not witness this response, as it will only feed the rumor mill.
  4. Go over what will happen with benefits, final check, and PTO. Cover how to apply for unemployment. HR will hopefully be present in the meeting and can take over at this point. Provide a business card with contact information so the employee can call with any follow-up questions. He will likely be angry, in shock, saddened, etc. and will not be thinking of questions during the notification meeting.
  5. Depending on the circumstances of the termination, if the employee would like to say “good-bye” to co-workers, let them. This can be risky and should be handled on a case-by-case basis, but some people like this closure.
  6. Offer the employee a meeting in private before or after office hours to return to clean out their desk. Or, give them the option to have their items shipped to them. Only “walk out” those employees who become hostile or who based on past behavior, cannot be trusted to return to their work station.
  7. Thank the employee for their contributions and wish them luck.
  8. Communicate to the rest of your team that “employee” is no longer with the company. Do not give details of the reason for termination as that information should remain confidential.