Cut the final conversation to the bare essentials; it reduces the pain of termination.
Scene from the Oscar-winning flick, Moneyball. Administrator of the basketball team, Peter Brand is apprehensive; he is worried about how the person he is about to fire will react to “the news.” Brand calls the player in his office and coughs out a singular statement, “I’ve gotta let you go; Jack’s office will handle the paperwork.” As Brand walks out of the office he is reminded of what his mentor Billy told him minutes before― “Would you rather have one shot in the head than five in the chest and bleed to death?”
Most HR professionals feel that firing someone is the hardest part of the job. According to a June 2012 article published by Harvard Business Review, most managers let anxiety drive the process of firing rather than intellect. Many others believe in farming the dirty work to an HR associate. While HR managers continue to look for inventive ways to conduct the final conversation, experts believe that long oratories and delegation only aggravate the pain and intensity of departure for an employee.
Breaking the news of firing someone is an awkward conversation, which involves telling a person why his performance was below par or why his role has become redundant for the organization. Oftentimes, these conversations can take an ugly turn, and spark a debate filled with arguments and disagreements. Most believe that it is better to prepare a targeted employee for the final day across a period of time to reduce the impact of shock. A termination can elicit unfavorable emotional reactions, such as feelings of rejection, depression, and drop in confidence in an employee. If managed poorly, a termination conversation can also lead to angry reactions that can have long-term repercussions for others in the team. In this age of social media, it has become even more important for organizations to be sensitive to termination conversations, as an individual’s personal and professional network has become independent of location and time. While many believe that subtle messaging about expected termination over a period of time acts as a buildup to the final conversation, research suggests that it is human predisposition for employees to shy away from expecting the worst. Most experts, therefore, suggest that the only real gesture of empathy that HR can demonstrate is by making the conversation direct and impassive. In many ways, therefore, the role of the HR manager during a termination is like that of a hangman. Just like a hangman, HR’s job is to pull the lever quickly and dispassionately to reduce the pain and anxiety of anticipation.
Here is a checklist of 10 things that an HR manager can do to make a termination less painful for an employee.
- Maintain clear and precise communication on the reason for termination
- Provide space for the terminated employee to put forward his point of view
- Avoid emotional reactions to the employee’s viewpoints
- Be prepared with the most expected answers
- Have all the paperwork ready before the conversation
- Communicate what the organization will communicate to the other employees about the departure
- Insist on having a face-to-face conversation
- Do not end the meeting on a low note
- Thank the employee for his contributions
- And of course, keep the conversation to the bare essentials