Five Ways to Make Terminations Kinder (From Someone Who’s Been Terminated)

By Shannon Stroud, Outplacement Director

I read this article about making the process of terminations kinder, (read here). I agree with much of what was written, yet felt like it was still missing something. That prompted me to create my own list of ways employers can terminate people in better, kinder ways.

Before we begin, let’s clean up the terminology. The words “fire” and “terminate” feel harsh and set a negative tone. I prefer “transitioning” or “exiting” out of the organization and see these terms being used much more as the norm today. All of these words are used interchangeably in most HR conversations, however words matter, particularly when an organization is attempting to preserve its culture through a termination. I recommend using “career transition” when referencing an individual exiting the organization.

In the article, they referenced four key points. Here’s my take on them:

1. Make Sure You Offer Up Opportunities First: If you have an underperformer, coaching that includes goals and expectations coupled with a structured timeline (“what and by when”) allows for personal accountability and growth. Your mission should be to help them succeed. We should give individuals opportunities to correct underperformance before we resort to a career transition.

2. Consider all the alternatives and CYA (short for “cover you’re a**): You should always look to realign the individual to another opportunity within the organization. Remember, you hire great people and you should work to keep them! If in a coaching situation, be sure to document, document, and then document some more.

3. Work With HR To Ensure The Transition Is Handled Correctly: You absolutely need to have your ducks in a row in order to mitigate any legal risks and your HR partner is the best person to guide you through the process.

4. Be As Transparent As Possible With The Employee: You absolutely must explain the reason for the decision without being vague. Do not create situations where it feels like the decision might be reversed. Having personally been the one being exited from the organization, my recommendation is to be concise. During an exit discussion the individual won’t remember more than a fraction of what is said. Their minds are thinking about a million other things like what do I do next? How long will I be without a paycheck? How do I tell my partner? Etc. Don’t waste their time fluffing the conversation to make yourself feel better about the transition. Get to the point and help them exit quickly and gracefully.

While these four are great recommendations, I would add a 5th:

5. Set The Stage For What’s Next For The Individual: You, as the exiting manager or HR professional, are in a position to help the individual look forward to what’s next instead of being stuck in the “what now?”

But, why should you? Let’s talk about our greatest fear when terminating an individual – workplace shootings. They happen too often and can be prevented with more compassion in the termination process. It would be great to minimize the risk of that happening – agreed? Second, the morale of other employees is important to protect. When current employees see how you handle the exit of someone with as much compassion as you show those still with the organization, it says a lot about the culture and YOU. Finally, handling terminations with more compassion impacts employee engagement and retention.

So how do we help an individual focus on what’s next and transition them with compassion? What’s one thing can you do to help an individual through this transition that helps them to retain their dignity, keep their self-confidence intact and find their next position more quickly? Provide Outplacement Services; it’s really that simple.

If you need additional resources in how to make “the dreaded process go smoothly”, we have a library of videos for use as a refresher or to train new leaders within your organization. And, if you still have questions or need additional support, please reach out – or 317-264-4114.

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