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

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.  At the end of the survey, we allow for open responses, where terminated employees can share any and all information about the experience with our research team.

Surprisingly, the most potent information emerged from this section of open form data.  In these responses, we found a significant theme:

Terminated employees were most upset about who conducted the termination meeting.

Here is a sample of some responses:

  • “I don’t understand why my direct supervisor or even department VP wasn’t involved.”
  • “The executive speaking to me seemed in a hurry to get on with things and didn’t seem to be interested. I was surprised that my direct boss was not involved.”
  • “I feel like my direct manager/director should have been part of the exit. The days leading up to exit, the communication between my director and the manager was extremely limited/ceased, which was unprofessional.”
  • “It could have been a little more personal and less mechanical.”
  • “The worst part of this whole process is that my boss wasn’t the one who told me I was getting fired, it was some executive I have never met before. It was the most impersonal interaction they could have contrived. Let my boss be the one I talk to. I respect him and he respects me.”

Of all of the things employees could have said about being fired during the pandemic, the thing they were most upset about was that they felt the wrong person conducted the meeting; they were not treated with dignity. The terminated employees wanted to hear the message from their boss – to hear it from someone they have a relationship with!

Our research indicates that a 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 termination isn’t handled well.  Terminated individuals want to hear the message from someone they have a relationship with – and when they don’t they feel disrespected. This should be of concern to human resource professionals and executive leadership striving to maintain their reputation and brand through difficult layoffs and downsizing during the pandemic.

What are Best Practices? Who Should Deliver the Message?

Career Consultants is the oldest outplacement firm in Indiana. Since 1981 we have been observing and recording the emotions and job search issues individuals face when they learn they have lost their job.  As a result of this new data, we have updated our best practice recommendations.

Whether the termination is occurring because of the pandemic or any other reason the following are “best practice” recommendations:

  • The Manager: In most cases, the appropriate person to conduct the termination meeting is the employee’s immediate supervisor. That manager may want their boss or an HR representative, to also be present. In either case, the supervisor actually conducts the meeting and delivers the message. Others can act as witnesses, confirm details, and discourage the employee from expressing inappropriate behavior or bargaining to change the termination decision. 
  • Top Management: If the organization is going through a major downsizing, a top executive of the organization should deliver the message to the entire organization and be prepared to inform everyone what this may mean going forward. It is also critical that once terminations are complete, that top management addresses the remaining employees to communicate compassion for terminated employees, as well as build confidence for the remaining team.

Pre – Pandemic Research Revisited: Over the years, HR Professionals, and managers responsible for conducting the termination meeting, reported that transitioning a person out of the organization is one of the most difficult jobs they had to perform. 

Managers reported they:

  • Had no formal training on how to manage this meeting
  • Delay the discussion to the last minute
  • Lose sleep over having to conduct the termination
  • Have difficulty delivering the message
  • Have difficulty transitioning the person out of the office
  • Did not know how to deal with crying, anger or other emotional outbursts
  • Are afraid they will say something inappropriate that could result in a law suit

We know, in many cases, that employers are using the human resource team or a small group of individuals to handle mass layoffs and terminations, as a way to circumvent the lack of management training on how to handle termination conversations.  We get it – and that decision makes a lot of sense.  However, given the new data, we recommend organizations take the time to train management, so that they may participate in those meetings.  

The negative impact a lack of training can have on a termination meeting can be detrimental to an organizational brand. Terminations are highly emotional events for both the manager and the employee; if the manager is not adequately prepared, it can get out of control. It’s no shock that managers report they can’t wait to get the meeting over with, so they can get it behind them and move on. Training is critical.

The Solution: Training Managers  

We know you may not be 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 and training, at no cost, to our clients who are faced with conducting termination meetings. 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.

We’re here to help with the data, the experience, and the resources to make handle terminations professionally with compassion.  Contact Jessica Gendron, President for more information at jgendron@cleindy.com or (317) 264-4119.

%d bloggers like this: