Workforce Violence Shooting In Aurora, Illinois

By: Richard Butz

Employee being terminated last Friday kills 5 people.

There is no job that is most difficult for a manager than having to transition a person out of the organization. The situation that occurred in Aurora should give every HR Professional and manager faced with transitioning a person out of the organization pause, and ask the following questions.” Are we providing the best training possible to help ensure this never happens in our organization”?


Tip #1. Prepare for The Termination Meeting: A well thought-out termination plan is the first step in managing a termination skillfully.  Without a plan, this highly emotional event has the potential to get out of control and can be damaging to the employee, the manager, and the companySome companies engage an attorney to help deliver the message. We recommend the attorney provide counsel about the legal aspects of the termination.  However, for assistance on how to plan and deliver the message and how to deal with all of the emotional situations that could occur during this meeting [including the workforce violence that occurred in Aurora], go to a professional outplacement firm like Career Consultants that will provide educational videos and training you will need.  They handle thousands of these emotional situations and are quite skilled at the human side of the discussion.

Start by thinking about the individual and any personal situations they will face when they are told they will no longer be working at the company. Look through the employee’s records: check files and draw on as much personal knowledge as possible to determine if there is anything you know that could affect how you manage the termination.

  • Medical Data:  That would indicate how the person will take the shock of the termination
  • History Of Inappropriate Behavior: Arrests, threats, history of violent behavior, or other erratic behavior on or off the job.
  • Significant Dates: Anniversary of employment, a religious holiday, planned vacation, impact on employees’ pension, 401K, bonus or other benefits
  • Family Circumstances:  Does the employee have any support system in place? Are there other life factors such as illnesses, aging parents, recent financial strains that the shock of a termination impact?
  • Emotional State of the Employee: Are there any know indications that the employee will need counseling when the termination is announced?
  • “Handwriting on the Wall”:  Is the employee expecting the termination or will the announcement comes as a complete shock?
  • Day of the Week Of Termination: Friday is the worst day to conduct the termination

Tip #2. Delivering the Message:  In most cases, the appropriate person to conduct the termination meeting is the employee’s immediate supervisor. That manager may want his or her boss, or an HR representative, to also be present. In either case, the supervisor actually conducts the meeting and delivers the message. Others act as witnesses, confirm details, and discourage the employee from expressing inappropriate behavior or bargaining to change the termination decision. If there is concern about potential violent reaction, consider having security available close by.

Example Of How To Deliver The Message:

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

  • Our department has been reorganized
  • Your job was in danger of being eliminated
  • I haven’t been happy with your performance
  • Due to business conditions we are going to have to downsize (that there’s a cutback in staff)
  • You are being relieved of your assignment here as of the end of the week.”

Tip # 3. Planning For Emotional Responses That May Occur:  With regard to the emotional responses that occur, most managers report they:

  • Do not know what to expect
  • Do not know how to cope with the emotional responses that usually occur
  • Enter the termination interview fearing the worst

What are some of the emotions that manager’s may face from the employee?

  • Shock and Disbelief: When the announcement is made and the message is communicated that “you are not going to work here anymore,” the initial response is disbelief. The employee usually reacts by saying, perhaps aloud, “This really isn’t happening to me.”  This may be exhibited in the following behavior:
    • Crying
    • Silence
    • What am I going to tell my wife/husband/significant other
    • Why did you pick on me – others deserved to be fired more than me
  • Bargaining: The emotion of “bargaining” will occur during the termination meeting when the individual asks. “Isn’t there some other way to save my job?” or “Can I have some time to look around for a transfer?” or “I’ll go to the president about this!” It is important to avoid agreeing to any bargains because, once made, or even hinted, the flames of disbelief are roused and the whole decision is spurned.
  • Anger: Almost instantly, anger enters the picture. The employee may feel rejected or feel:
    • They are being dealt an unfair blow, whether justified or not.
    • Termination is not justified
    • Threats – I am going to sue for discrimination
    • Performance – I can’t believe this is happening. I have been working hard to do better

Anger, under the very worst of conditions, can result in retaliation or even violent actions if not dealt with at this point. In the situation at Aurora, the individual apparently knew the termination was going to happen and came to the meeting very angry…to the point of carrying a weapon. In some similar situations anger could come to the surface later when the employee has time to reflect on being terminated and returns to the company and either threatens or takes action against the former boss or company.

Tip #4. Communicating The Conditions of Departure:  Termination is a shock and people in shock need to be told what to do next. Be prepared, and be very clear, about all logistical matters such as clearing out the office, returning company property, transferring duties and identifying the liaison employee that will handle all matters after the termination.

Example“You’ll be able to clear out your office (set a time). Right now, I’d like to review this packet of information with you about your severance and benefits. You can re-read it when you get a chance tonight. Feel free to call Mary in Human Resources with any questions you have. One of the benefits the company is providing you with a career coach to help you find a new job as soon as possible and will also assist you during the transition period. I’d like you to talk with the person who will be your personal Career Coach as soon as we complete our meeting.”

Tip #5. Closing the Meeting:  In closing the termination meeting, present the employee with the letter and make an offer of personal support and best wishes.

“Well, Bill, I’m sorry that I had to be the one to break this news to you. I want to wish you the best of luck for the future. As I said earlier, we’re going to help you conduct a thorough job search. At this time, Sally Williams from personnel will walk you back to your office so that you can pick up some of your personal belongings. There is no need for you to stay in the office any longer today. You can come back at another time, either after hours or over the weekend to pick up all of your items. We can make arrangements for a time that is most convenient to you”.

Tip #6. Transitioning the Employee Out Of the Office – The Most Common Criticism:  Now that the termination meeting is over, the task of transitioning the person out of the office takes place.

The most common criticism heard from individuals who have lost their jobs is about how they were transitioned out of the organization… unprofessionally they were treated, when they were told to leave the office!

Although most organizations treat the person being terminated fairly and humanely, it is important you do not underestimate the damage that can be done to a company’s culture and reputation if this step is not done well. These examples occur all too frequently, and perception is reality, so once again, we strongly recommend you plan how you are going to transition the individual out of the office.

The following are examples of different options available to you when transitioning a person out of the office:

  • Leaving Premise Immediately: Employers usually ask the terminated employer to leave immediately so as to minimize legal risk and disruption of the surviving workforce. There may be some situations when you will allow workers a choice about when and how to collect their personal things, and/or say their good-byes, but regardless of which approach you choose, let them depart with as much grace and dignity as possible.
  • The Walk Out – A Company Escort: It is better that the escort not be the person to whom the employee reported or the individual who delivered the message, because the situation could be too emotional at that point. Ideally, the escort should be done by another member of the team, often a Human Resource Professional. The escort should however, watch that only personal items are removed.
  • The Walk Out – You as the Escort: Although not ideal, some managers escort the individual to their desk to pick up a purse, car keys or other personal items. You should not allow the individual to linger at their desk, or stay to get his or her house in order. If there are a number of personal items to gather, either make arrangements for the individual to come to the office after hours, or offer to ship their items home. Most people prefer to collect their personal belongings from their worksite in private, without having to face their co-workers. Consider ordering and paying for a taxi if the individual generally carpools to work, would be picked up after work by a friend or family member, or would need to carry bulky items on public transportation when he or she is emotional.
  • The Security Guard as An Escort: Where the possibility of work force violence or sabotage exists, or if the employee is extremely angry or emotional, a security guard should escort the employee off the premise. This policy not only protects the enterprise but also the employee. Explain to the employee that you are using a security guard to protect them from any accusations that someone might blame them for anything that might go wrong around the period of their termination. Use sensible security measures to protect computer systems by taking away access codes, turning in building – access cards, or to protect other sensitive or proprietary information.

Conclusion: We know you are not faced with the difficult task of planning and managing a termination very often, —most specifically how to how to deal with the emotions that may occur during the meeting and how to transition a person out of the office. No one knows if the situation that occurred in Aurora could have been avoided with better planning and more skillful managing the termination meeting. To take steps to help ensure it does not occur the next time you need to transition someone out of your organization, call Career Consultants Outplacement Practice or visit our Outplacement. They will provide complimentary video training and coaching that can be used as the agenda for training anyone responsible for managing the termination meeting. Our nearly 40 years of experience will be invaluable to you.

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