Avoid the Bitterness of Terminations


Over the last couple of years I have noticed an alarming trend among the participants in our outplacement programs – they are upset and angry about their situation.  Granted these are people that, perhaps in the last couple of days, have been notified that their future has changed drastically.  Everything they felt certain about has been turned upside down.  Don’t misunderstand; they have a legitimate right to feel upset and even angry, but the vehemence I’ve seen lately has been unusual.  Individuals are dwelling on the past, harboring negative feelings, and struggling to move forward.

One common denominator among these situations appears to center on how the individual was treated at their separation meeting.  I’ve compiled a short list of especially grievous things that significantly contribute to negative feelings toward previous employers.

What NOT to do 

  1. Notify individuals late on Friday afternoon. I know this sounds like it would be better for the employee. You reason that it might save them some embarrassment by not having everyone else witness the notification, but for several reasons it isn’t the best time to do it.  Terminating on Friday afternoon gives the impression that you were just wringing the last drop of labor out of them and this makes them feel abused.  The more serious reason this is bad timing, is that most of the business contacts that they will be relying on for assistance and future networking are off for the weekend and cannot be reached.  Friday terminations leave the individual with nothing constructive to do until Monday and this equates to 60 hours of time to let the anger build without a productive outlet.
  2. Have armed guards escort individuals out of the building without an opportunity to gather their personal belongings. Whether it is “armed” guards or a manager that escorts them out, being escorted feels demeaning and humiliating.   It sends a clear message that you no longer trust the individuals, or they have done something wrong and need to be punished.  Individuals who are not allowed to collect their personal things after a termination tend to feel even more powerless and out of control.  They do not get the opportunity to say goodbye to coworkers – people they may have worked next to for years and with whom they have a relationship. Everyone, including employees who remain, needs to have that closure.
  3. Surprise people. If this is a reduction-in-force due to economic conditions, employees should be well aware of the financial conditions and understand what other cost-cutting measures have been attempted prior to reducing headcount.  The fact that they are impacted might be a surprise, but the necessity to have a reduction-in-force should not be a surprise.  If the employee is terminated for an on-going performance problem, they should be aware of the problem and given an opportunity to correct it; only then should the last step of termination take place.

I understand that there are valid reasons why all of the situations above may be necessary, including Friday afternoon notifications or surprising people.  Terminations should occur as soon as practical after the decision is made.  Leaving the decision over the weekend may mean that the news is “leaked”, causing more and bigger problems.  Based on your knowledge of an individual and the reaction in the notification meeting, you may feel it is best to immediately escort the individual off the premises.  You should never endanger personnel or property.

A few GOOD ideas

  1. Avoid terminations on Fridays. While there may be times when it has to be done such as global same day notifications, then do it early in the day. If it all possible, make the notification as early in the week as possible.
  2. Terminate with dignity. Most often the armed (or otherwise) guards are not necessary and are just an added humiliation to an already difficult situation.
  3. Avoid surprise.  Good communication is a key to employee engagement so keep employees informed of the company’s financial soundness.  Performance-based terminations should be preceded by a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), a process that includes regular meetings between the employee and his/her manager. The employee should know each step of the PIP process as well as how to achieve improvement.  If the plan involves improvements in A, B, & C, make sure the employee understands how the organization grades the progress (or not) of the improvement.  Termination meetings for performance really shouldn’t be a surprise.
  4. Be consistent. Having a policy and a plan which outlines the steps and separation benefits for severed employees help alleviate some of the fears for the employees.  It also encourages consistency and clarity.  The ability to communicate your separation policy and plans to all employees allows everyone see that the organization values its people.

By thinking ahead, including your outplacement partner and planning termination events as far in advance as possible, the actual events will be implemented smoother, allow individuals to leave with their dignity intact and help them move forward quicker and with more enthusiasm.

Remember… departing employees could be your organization’s future employees or customers. How they are treated during their departure impacts how they perceive and talk about your organization.

Call Career Development Partners today for more information on ways to avoid bitter terminations. 918-293-0500.

Travis Jones - CEO of Career Development Partners

Written By Rick Christensen

Rick has been a career consultant for over 20 years, serving a very broad-based and diverse clientele. His specialties include effective group facilitation, one-on-one coaching and consultation at all levels including senior executives.

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