The Do’s and Don’ts of Terminating an Employee

I’ve been blogging for nearly six years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever directly covered the topic of termination. I’d rather focus on how we can help struggling employees improve. However, when you have done what you can and the teammate has done what they can and it still just doesn’t work out, I am in favor of moving along. It’s never fun, but when done properly it is healthy.

Though the nature of each termination may affect the specifics discussed, there are elements that every termination should include. They are:

  • No surprises. By the time you reach the decision to terminate an employee, it should not be a surprise because you’ve already had multiple conversations about the specific issues that are resulting in the termination.
  • Getting right to the point by reconfirming previous conversations. “We’ve had this conversation multiple times, and I’ve really reflected on this situation and have decided that today is the last day we’re going to have a conversation.”
  • Not getting personal. “For one reason or another, it’s not working out. It’s not working out for you, and it’s not working out for me.”
  • Clearly stating what is going to happen. “We’re going to part ways, and it’s going to happen today.”
  • Being firm, yet graceful and empathetic. “I know this is not fun or easy for you, and it’s a disappointment for both of us because it doesn’t seem like a successful ending. However, you never know what life brings us so I hope today is the start of something meant to be for your future.”
  • Total confidence. If you are going to terminate someone, you must be 110 percent confident in your decision to terminate and your reasons for doing it. If you are wavering you can find yourself negotiating or arguing with the person.

Termination fails

Having to terminate someone is bad enough without committing a major blunder or handling the termination carelessly. I’ve heard firsthand of an employee who learned he was fired when he returned to work and his key fob didn’t unlock the door. Another employee, after being told she was terminated, was given a cardboard box to return to her desk (past all her other co-workers) and pack up her things.

Bad terminations happen when the employer:

  • Is uncaring. You should not waver or be regretful for making a necessary termination, but you can still acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and be sympathetic to what the employee must deal with as a result of the termination.
  • Is demeaning or intimidating. Job loss can be one of the biggest and most difficult life changes a person can experience. The termination shouldn’t make you feel good, and there is no need to make an employee feel worse about the termination. Do your best to keep the event from becoming an embarrassment.
  • Hasn’t planned ahead. You must have your next steps planned out before the termination conversation. What is your communication plan? When is the employee’s last pay check? What equipment will you need handed in? After the termination conversation is over, your next conversation with the ex-employee is the plan for separation. “I plan to communication your departure to the team this afternoon. Your e-mails will be transferred to me, and I’ll handle them professionally. Please go ahead and leave me your phone and office key. Stacey will be handling all your separation documents, so please call her if you have any questions after you receive those. Is there anything else I’m not thinking of that we need to complete?”
  • Lacks confidence. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is letting the employee talk us out of the decision we’ve made. If you aren’t 110 percent sure of your decision and can’t articulate the why behind it, your employee and others will second guess you.

As crazy as it sounds, the best termination conversations I’ve had have been when someone has said “thank you” after the termination. Even in difficult conversations, most employees value your clarity and understand they have been given every benefit of the doubt.


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