Making the decision to terminate an employee is never easy. The stress can be overwhelming for an out-of-work IT pro, but the situation is also tense for those tasked with making and carrying out the decision to terminate.
As a manager, team lead, or exec, how you handle this issue will ultimately reflect on you and your organization. It’s important that a termination not be considered unfair to the department.
Here are a few ways to make a developmental termination well planned, structured, and not leave your team with the impression that one of them could be next.
Make your team more cohesive, not less
A termination should make a team more cohesive, not less. This can be difficult with the flurry of bad or wrongful noises that often accompany a termination from both the employee and team. To an extent, it can be healthy for a terminated employee or their coworkers to vent, so try not to take it personally.
To ensure that a termination is viewed in the proper light, the path toward termination should be structured to offer ample opportunity to address shortcomings. Performance reviews should list desired objectives, with weak areas highlighted and a clearly defined expectation of ongoing improvement.
When it’s clear that position requirements are not being met and the employee is not showing sufficient improvement, it’s time to terminate, sooner rather than later.
There’s a right way to terminate — and a wrong way
During the actual termination, there are some best practices that can reduce the stress on the employee, as well as yourself:
Bring HR. Ideally, you should have another person in the room when you have the conversation. For better or worse, your in-house HR pro probably has more experience with this sort of thing.
Do it face-to-face. It can be tempting to use electronic means to conduct a termination, but this is seen as extremely disrespectful to the employee. Don’t email, text, or call.
Never terminate in public. Find a private place to meet. Cubicles are not the place for termination, even if you work in one yourself. A meeting room or private office works best.
Meet near an exit. Try to conduct the meeting near an exit if possible. No one should be forced to take the walk of shame.
Ignore the “Fire on Friday” norm. It is more respectful to terminate at the start of the day (and pay them for working the entire day). While Friday was often cited in the past as the best day to terminate, it leaves an entire weekend to stew and vent on social media. Likewise, the rest of your team might be seeking answers. “Fire on Friday” is a norm that you might wish to rethink.
Be direct and brief. Employees do not appreciate vagueness during a termination, nor do they tolerate long speeches. A brief explanation is all that is needed. Have any necessary paperwork on hand, and be prepared for the return of company property such as laptops, mobile devices, and keys. It is also in your best interest to avoid getting into details. Long-winded explanations provide you with the opportunity to accidentally say something the employee can use against you.
Leave the conversation on a high note
It might not seem like it’s possible to terminate positively, but this is actually really important. Put the situation in context. Explain to the employee that although this position didn’t work out, they still have a valuable role in the IT field, in a position that more closely aligns with their skill set.
There can be long-term benefits to termination. An employee that is dragging along in a mismatched position is probably already experiencing considerable stress. You don’t have to be the “bad boss” just because you terminated someone. Realize that things will actually be better for them once they find a position more suited to their abilities.
Shortly after the termination, it’s a good idea to get the rest of the team together to brainstorm for future success. You might ask them if they believe the position needs to be filled right away, or if this is an opportunity to rearrange some of the responsibilities within the department. One of your team members might wish to be considered for the position. Who knows, they might even be interested in dividing the duties amongst themselves in exchange for an increase in compensation. You won’t know unless all of you come together to discuss the situation.
If it’s decided that the position that needs to be filled right away with someone new, ask them to review the list of qualifications and even the interview questions. They may already know what might be done differently next time to improve the outcome. By involving everyone in the process, your entire team can find motivation through this setback. You can emerge from the storm with a more cohesive team and a secure reputation as a fair and resourceful leader.