Why Employment Terminations Go Wrong - Some Learning's From the Front Lines
August 28, 2018
Posted by: CPHR Manitoba
By Michael Embury van Wyk, CPHR, C.A.C.E., BA
Director, Career Management, People First HR Services
As HR professionals we often say to ourselves, “I could write a book…” in reference to the various employee situations and termination meetings we have encountered throughout our careers. We are directly involved in some of the most sensitive and challenging situations, and are called upon to ensure that they take place in a respectful and safe manner. Though despite our best efforts, there are still the unexpected and unanticipated moments that require us to be nimble and responsive to the situation at hand.
How do we minimize the frequency or even avoid the unexpected? Planning. Thoughtful planning helps to ensure that employment terminations are skillfully conducted; the employee is treated with care and respect and retains dignity. Additional benefits to effective planning are that the employee is safe, the organization’s internal and external brand is preserved and the organization’s legal and ethical responsibilities are fulfilled. It sounds logical doesn’t it? Through my work in Career Transition, I strongly believe in having an established and detailed termination checklist to make sure every possibility has been thought through.
Termination planning can be broken down into three principle areas: Pre-Notification, The Notification Meeting and Post-Notification.
Your pre notification planning focuses on the logistics, message planning and anticipating reactions. One detail often overlooked, is how the employee will be invited to the notification meeting. This small detail can have a lasting impact on both the individual and your organization’s brand. An example that illustrates the importance of this detail is one I recently observed: an employee was invited to a termination meeting, which had been scheduled with them as a “project planning” meeting. When the employee arrived with all of their project documents and folders, they soon realized that this was not what the meeting was about. They felt the company was not truthful, they felt blindsided and it was more difficult for them to process the information that was being shared. The after effects were that this one small detail is the part of the meeting that was most vivid for this individual. It was what he remembered, and held him back from focusing on what was important; moving forward. I always suggest that if you are going to schedule the meeting in advance, that you be as generic as possible regarding the meeting subject. A subject line for example could be, “Touch base” or something non-threatening, but truthful.
Another critical element of the pre notification is to plan for the reactions of the employee. These feelings may range from anger, shock, denial or sadness. As and HR Professional, how will you respond? What is your plan? What are the key message points in the delivery? Rehearsal with the leader involved in the delivery will increase comfort and decrease the possibility of the leader deviating from the message or reacting in a way that is not productive to the meeting. You should also make a safety plan and established response protocols in the event of violence or talk of self-harm. These situations happen rarely, but it is imperative that you are ready in the event that it does.
A Career Transition Consultant colleague of mine recently encountered just such a situation. Following notification, the individual expressed that they had prior thoughts of self-harm and the news of job loss was the final straw for this individual. They were in crisis. Fortunately, in this situation my colleague was prepared. She was able to leverage her training and support the individual in the moment. She was equipped with the contacts for local crisis units and stayed while he made contact. She made a plan with this individual that she would be in contact later that day, and what her next steps were if he did not answer the phone. In the end, the individual was safe and received the support he needed. His memory of the situation and the day of his employment termination was that of feeling respected, his dignity was intact and the organization genuinely had his best interests at heart.
The next phase of planning is for the Notification Meeting itself. Think through key elements of how the delivery will flow. It helps you or the employee’s leader to keep the meeting on track. Some key elements to consider as you go into the notification meeting:
- Avoid small talk. Get to the point immediately regarding the decision to dismiss. The meeting normally should not last more than 5-10 minutes.
- Communicate key messages.
- Explain reason as concisely as you can and do not go into a list of shortcomings.
- Allow time for reaction - listen to the employee but do not react to any challenges from the employee.
- Emphasize the support being provided (financial support, career transition consulting, cooperation on references).
- Try to end the meeting on a positive note. Shake hands and wish the person well.
Post notification activities focus primarily on communication after the individual has left the premises. If you have not already done so, arrange with your IT contact to disable computer access including VPN access and emails etc. The next priority should be to notify immediate co-workers that will be directly affected. You will want to compile a list of people and vendors both inside and outside the organization that will need to be notified and provided with alternate contacts, and notify reception as to how to handle incoming calls.
While many of these suggestions may sound straight forward, establishing an extremely detailed Termination Checklist will help you to anticipate any potential issues. Consult with your Career Transition provider, they will likely have an established process they can share with you and provide you support during each step of the termination. Bottom line, planning, planning, planning will potentially help you to avoid that next tale from the front line and create a smooth, respectful process that ensures best outcomes for all involved.