The Prepared Leader

Terminating an employee is probably one of the most difficult tasks any leader will undertake.  There are balancing needs that must be faced in each notification:  the needs of the employer; the needs of the employee being terminated; and the needs of the remaining team.  The prepared leader plays a pivotal role in addressing these competing needs.

What outcome does the employer seek? 

The employer wants the employee to know that their employment is ending.  Period.  This information must be communicated clearly.  If there are business reasons – economic challenges, change in business direction – causing the termination, a brief reference to this context may help the individual understand that this is indeed a business decision and not a result of their own performance.  If the termination is a result of cumulative poor performance or behavior that’s been documented and discussed with the employee, re-hashing this during the termination meeting will not change the outcome, so this is best left unsaid.  The employer needs assurance that the leader charged with delivering this message does not veer into personal opinions that are not part of the company message, creating any vulnerability for the company at the end of the working relationship. 

How does the leader’s delivery of this message impact the employee? 

Work collaboratively with your HR representative to coordinate and co-facilitate this meeting.  An effective leader will make their message clear and concise.  They will ensure they demonstrate their respect for the employee by delivering this information in a closed door setting – a private office or a private meeting room.  The leader will briefly indicate that as of today, the individual’s employment is ending.   The leader may choose to thank the employee for their contribution.  After hearing about their job ending, many people stop hearing anything further.  At this point, the leader can leave the employee with the HR representative, who will review details about severance, departure, etc.

What does the leader need to consider with respect to the remaining team? 

Depending on the circumstances, remaining employees may be concerned about workload, about the security of their own employment, about leadership or about the stability of the employer.  The leader will want to think about those issues, consult with Human Resources and / or the organization’s executive team and decide what the message(s) back to remaining employees will be. This could include a team meeting, held on the same day as the employee termination, but at a later time. Or, with a smaller team, the leader may choose to speak to team members on an individual basis. The effective leader will invite questions or comments and listen carefully to what is said to gauge the mood of remaining employees.  As workload allows, a good leader will be visible and available in the days immediately following a termination for further questions or concerns.   The goal is to maintain workplace continuity and to do so, it helps to demonstrate that employee terminations are handled fairly and with empathy.  

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