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Tactful Termination

One of the hardest tasks a manager or business owner must perform is terminating an employee. It’s never easy telling an employee that their position is being eliminated or that their services are no longer needed. Imagine telling a fifteen-year employee who was consistently an above average performer that her job is being eliminated? Just thinking about the termination conversation can cause stress and anxiety for the manager.

There are many different reasons that an employee can be terminated. Perhaps the employer is downsizing or moving to a new location and positions are being eliminated. Perhaps the employee is not meeting expectations and the employer has decided to terminate the employee. Perhaps the employee behaved inappropriately and crossed the line of acceptable professional behavior. Whatever the reason, having a termination conversation is difficult. Rational employees can become emotional within seconds. I have been at both ends of the termination conversation and it is difficult for everyone involved! As a Human Resource professional, I was involved in a mass layoff many years ago. After a very long day of termination conversations with multiple employees, I closed my office door and cried.

When I lost my job years ago, I experienced denial first, followed by anger, and then confusion. I had a hard time accepting that my employer was telling me on a Friday afternoon that my position was being eliminated. I had a harder time being escorted to my office and asked to clean out my desk. The process was humiliating! I was also asked to sign a letter stating that I would not sue my employer for wrongful termination or anything else. If I didn’t sign the letter, my employer was not going to give me a severance check. Looking back, I shouldn’t have signed the letter, but I was intimidated and scared.


Here are a few issues to consider when preparing to terminate an employee.

·         Time of day – If possible, wait until the end of the workday or work shift to terminate an employee. Employees will get emotional, some might even cry or yell. If you are telling an employee that his position is being eliminated at the end of the month, you don’t want to communicate the bad news in the morning and expect the employee to be productive during the workday.

·         Location – Ask the employee to join you in a private location, then have the termination conversation. If you are nervous about how the employee might react, you can ask another manager or a Human Resource professional to join you. The worst place to have the termination conversation is in a public space.

·         Be empathetic – If employees become emotional, which is very likely, respond with empathy. “I understand that you are upset.”, “I can see this is difficult this is for you.”

·         Anticipate questions – there is a good chance the employee will have questions about the termination. Plan answers to the questions prior to the conversation.

·         Be prepared to communicate about benefits – when you terminate an employee, you disrupt their life! Let the employee know what benefits will continue, if any, and how to apply for unemployment benefits. If the employee has a retirement plan with the company, give the employee an update. You might schedule a follow up conversation with a Human Resource professional.

When I facilitate management training programs, we always discuss having difficult conversations with employees. If you need help developing your managers in 2024, give me a call.

Time to go!



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