Fired employee leaving office carrying a box

Firing an employee is arguably a manager’s least favorite work responsibility. In addition to being an unpleasant human interaction, it can also be a legal minefield. Often, it’s clear that an employee must go — a serious infraction of policies or inability to do the job; but sometimes, it can be a decision that managers equivocate about for far too long, a scenario that can be damaging to the organization and the employee alike.

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Allison Rimm and Celia Brown discuss
Knowing When to Fire Someone. They offer an  Employee Cost/Benefit Calculation Worksheet (PDF) – a tool to help quantify the factors in a termination decision can and valuate the costs and benefits:

“Because terminating someone is such an important and complicated strategic decision, it helps to have an objective way to measure the impact of a difficult employee, including a dispassionate evaluation of the disruption caused by turnover. Using the worksheet to quantify the factors in a termination decision can help you evaluate the costs and benefits of individuals’ performance, their impact on team dynamics, and bottom-line results. You can list such factors as the employee’s likelihood of improvement, the drain on your energy, and the cost of replacement. The tipping point comes when the cost of keeping an employee is greater than the disruption of letting him or her go.”

In evaluating whether or not to fire an employee, one step we’d encourage is evaluating whether or not your EAP can play a role.  A performance issue, particularly one that seems sudden or uncharacteristic, may be masking an underlying life problem that could be resolved. In a progressive discipline situation, counseling may help the employee to better understand the dynamics and improve their performance.

If it becomes necessary to fire the employee, the next step is doing so in the least damaging way for all involved. In another article in Harvard Business Review, Anese Cavanaugh says that:

“Being let go can be one of the most painful, humiliating, and devastating experiences of one’s life — but it doesn’t have to be the worst. How a manager handles the process will have a huge impact on how a former employee moves forward and how he or she will look back on this life-altering moment in the future.”

In How to Fire Someone Without Destroying Them, she compares two hypothetical termination scenarios – one in which the managers approaches the task as something “that just needs to get done” and the second, a planned, strategic approach handled with dignity and caring. She suggests steps to take to achieve the latter, from before the meeting, during the conversation and after you break the news.

Diane K. Adams makes the case that the way you let someone go is just as important as how you hire, because it sends a clear message at a time when everyone is watching. In an article for Fortune, How to fire people with dignity, she relates one extraordinary case she observed:

At one point Cisco Systems (where I was once the VP of human resources) determined that layoffs were prudent and necessary to survive changes in the industry and the economy. The idea of layoffs was especially tough because of the company’s strong culture that emphasized teamwork, collaboration, and social responsibility.
The Culture and Talent team there came up with a unique and positive spin on what could have been a much less palatable situation. The company provided a generous severance package that included cash as well as job-placement assistance. The best aspect of the package was that all 2,000 employees to be laid off were given an additional option. Instead of taking the severance package, they could work one year at a nonprofit organization of their choice and receive 50 percent of their salary—plus the severance bonuses, insurance coverage, and so on—while doing so.

She notes that few companies can afford to offer such generous severance packages, but that every organization can treat departing employees with respect, honesty, integrity, and dignity.

The following articles offer some best and worst ways to fire someone

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