New Research Part Two:
What Employees are Saying About Being Fired During a Pandemic

At the Center for Leadership Excellence and Career Consultants, we’ve been asking terminated employees about their termination experience – particularly during the pandemic. The results have been surprising.

We have uncovered data that causes us to provide new guidance to organizations on what you can do to show compassion to employees at termination, as well preserve your brand and reputation as a “best place to work”.

In general, the survey asked recently terminated employees about their termination experience; how they were treated, if they feel the conversation was handled professionally, if they understood why they were being terminated, etc.

In particular, participants were asked to rate the statement (on a Likert scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”): “I clearly understood why I was leaving my organization.” We found the responses quite surprising.  In total, 25% of participants indicated that they “strongly disagree” with that statement indicating they did not know why they were being terminated.  Overall, about a third of participants disagreed on some level with that statement.

When participants were given the opportunity to share comments, following the question, here is what they shared:

  • “The employer said my position was eliminated and I did not have the skills needed to continue with the direction the organization was headed. Yet when I asked for clarification, he would not respond to any of my questions about his decision-making process.
  • “I can’t believe that a company that claims to care about their employees so much, would lay off so many people in the middle of a pandemic and a recession with absolutely no warning.”
  • “Our country is in a pandemic and my company was navigating the pandemic successfully and making money. This was known and we were told everyone would have a chance to contribute and seek out opportunities in the new structure. We were never asked if we wanted to apply for any of the available positions.”
  • “It seems that there was a total lack of social responsibility and empathy when decisions like this are made during these difficult times.”
  • “The rationale for job loss was weak. I was deemed unfit to move forward with my company. Why? I believe the truth is seldom expressed in such dealings.”
  • “The reason for the meeting was described as a “quick chat”. The meeting could have been titled better.”
  • “The explanation provided by the employer that my position was eliminated and I did not have the skills needed to continue with the direction the organization was headed. The explanation makes no sense as my job is important and I was performing it well.”

 

Surprising Feedback About The Manager Who Communicated The Message

We expected to hear some comments representing the variety of emotions people experience when they learn they have just lost their job. We did have comments like that, but this sampling offers very surprising and important response about lack of information about “why I lost my job” that every human resource professional and managers should consider.

 

Why Were These Responses A Surprise?

The responses indicate that managers conducting the terminations were not well prepared to answer the most obvious question, “Why am I being terminated?” The poor responses resulted in employees feeling they were not treated with honesty or dignity. Your company can be a great place to work and treat people well during the time they are employed, yet lose all of that credibility if the manager conducts the termination poorly. It should be of concern to that people felt disrespected when they were transitioned out of the organization.

 

What Are “Best Practices” For Delivering the Message?

Whether the termination is occurring because of the pandemic or any other reason the following are “best practice” recommendations for managers responsible for delivering the message about why the person is losing their job.

PREPARATION

Never underestimate the importance of planning. Without careful planning, this highly emotional event has the potential to get out of control and can be damaging to the employee, the manager, and the company.

  • Anticipate obvious questions and/or emotions you may encounter when delivering the message
  • Prepare appropriate responses to each
  • Consider what to avoid saying

OPENING THE CONVERSATION

As a manager, it is important to understand that the purpose of the termination interview is to deliver one basic message; “You are not going to work here anymore.” The interview must communicate that fact clearly, directly, in a professional business – like manner and with compassion. This is not an occasion to rehash grievances, repeat accusations, justify actions or suggest other options.

The manager should choose the words carefully and deliver the message in a clear, concise, direct and definitive tone of voice. Maintaining a calm, confident demeanor is also important.

The following are some examples of how to open the conversation:

“Bill, I have to break some bad news. You have been aware for some time that…

  • Due to Covid – 19, our company has been going through some very difficult times…
  • Our department has been reorganized…
  • Due to business conditions we are going to have to downsize (that there’s a cutback in staff)…

 “The decision was based on a management review of all of our staffing needs across the organization. Part of that collaborative review process included a possible transfer. After determining a transfer was not possible, it was decided your position was eliminated. I want you to know that if there is anything I can do to help you in your job search I’ll do all I can. The company is going to do all it can as well and has hired a personal Career Coach for you.”

EXPRESSING EMPATHY

The manager can expect some emotional reaction, but often not nearly as extreme as anticipated. An example of a follow-up statement that is empathetic

For example:

“I really feel sorry that I have to tell you this news, Bill. I want you to know that if there is anything I can do to help you in your job search, I’ll do all I can. The company is going to do all it can as well and has hired a personal Career Coach for you.  I’ll introduce to you shortly.”

This next stage is important, the manager must wait in silence for a reaction from the employee.

AVOID THE FOLLOWING

As stated earlier, the effort you put into planning for, and practicing your response to typical emotional responses, will determine your effectiveness in managing this aspect of the termination skillfully. The manager should avoid any statement which will confuse the message being delivered. The employee must understand that he or she is being “let go.” Maintain good eye contact, lean forward slightly to communicate compassion and empathy but keep your distance. Avoid the temptation to ‘soften the blow’ – this often clouds the intended message.

Likewise, avoid extensive justification of the termination such as

  • Criticism of “people upstairs” who made the decision or who ‘forced’ the manager to do so.
  • Engaging in discussions about past performance, mutual bad feelings in the past, or a history of abuses. Such topics are counterproductive.
  • Emotional or aggressive behavior. When the employee meets with their Career Coach, he or she can ‘vent’ or ‘blow off steam’ without harm to self or others.
  • Urging them to look at the bright side. It is not helpful when someone’s feeling sad or angry.
  • Trying to fix it. Resist the urge because it can be hard at first and you may feel awkward or useless. You are being helpful and supportive by just being there.

 

The Solution – Coaching Managers:  We know you are not faced with the difficult task of planning and managing a termination very often, but when you are, call Career Consultants early in the planning process. We provide leadership coaching, at no cost, to our clients who are faced with conducting a termination meeting. It includes “best practice” information about how to plan for the meeting, delivering the message, responding to difficult questions or emotions such as anger or crying, transitioning the person out of the office and communication to co-workers about the reason for the decision.

Contact Jessica Gendron at 317-264-4119 or email her at jgendron@cleindy.com for more information.

Feel free to send this blog to anyone you think will find it to be of value when they are faced with terminating an employee.

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