One of the hardest things we do as managers is terminate employees. Even when a termination is for cause, it’s still difficult to do.
In most cases, a problem employee is counseled and given warnings first verbally, then in writing. The termination is done with a lot of thought and preparation, and shouldn’t really come as a surprise to the employee.
But that termination may come as a surprise to the other employees in the company.
When you fire a worker, what can or should you say to the remaining employees about what has taken place?
Lack of info after a termination destabilizes a workplace:
A friend of mine has been working for about a year in a company where people seem to just disappear.
She regularly comes to work in the morning to discover that one of her co-workers is simply gone, as if they vanished into thin air. Management never says anything to anybody about what has happened.
Did the person quit? Were they fired? Did they die? Who knows?
Since this has now happened several times, she and others have come to the conclusion that their co-workers are being fired. They are worried that soon the hatchet will be coming for them. They’re feeling extremely insecure in their jobs.
How to address a termination:
Silence may be golden, but it also creates a vacuum. And we all know that when there’s a lack of communication, the rumor mill starts cranking up!
When you’re mapping out the termination process, include in your plan how you will communicate the termination to the rest of your workforce.
Communicate quickly with remaining staff:
As soon as possible after the termination, communicate with the remaining employees. Depending on your company’s size and situation, you can do this in an employee meeting or through an email.
Protect the terminated employee’s privacy:
Keep in mind that your terminated employee has a right to privacy, so keep the information simple.
For example: “Julie’s last day with us was yesterday. We will begin the search for her replacement immediately. In the meantime, John and Sue will be sharing her duties. If you have any questions, please come talk with me.”
You can share more details with those who have a need to know, such as the affected managers, supervisors, business owner, HR, etc. You don’t have to sit entirely alone under your cone of silence.
What to do if an employee is upset by their coworker’s termination:
If you have an employee who is very unsettled by the termination and comes to you for more information, you can start out by reminding them of the company’s progressive discipline policy and code of conduct. Assure them that the company adheres to these policies and doesn’t arbitrarily terminate someone outside of them.
Talk with them about employee privacy and reassure them that you wouldn’t talk with anyone else about their performance, and that’s why you can’t discuss the details of your terminated employee’s situation.
Lastly, if appropriate, talk with them briefly about their own position and performance and let them know how much the company values their contributions so they feel reassured about their job.
As I like to say, “Communication is a beautiful thing.” Sometimes, you can say a lot by saying very little.
Just remember that it is important to have some communication with the survivors in your workplace. You don’t want your good employees jumping ship because they mistakenly think they’ll be the next one thrown overboard!
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