SUMMARY: Termination of an employee will always include some level of stress for all concerned. Certainly, for the employee who is being let go, but potentially also for the person who is responsible for letting them know, their leader and their co-workers. The following list are suggestions contributed by Susan Jakobson, RN, CHRP to help minimize the risk.

The employee being terminated

  •  Review and be clear on the reason for termination. The person being terminated deserves to know the reason for termination – whether it is due to downsizing, restructuring, misconduct, or is performance related. If the reason is ambiguous it will take longer for the person to process what is happening, gain perspective on their situation, and move forward with their life.
  •  Consider the timing of terminations. Try to avoid the end of the week or late afternoons to terminate an employee. There is less access to support services (e.g. employee assistance plan (EAP) or a family doctor) that may be needed to assist a distressed employee or the employee’s family.
  •  Give the employee options where possible. Choose the approach that you believe is the least traumatic to the employee given their situation. Offer options that give the employee the most control over the situation without compromising their own security. Options include allowing them to leave for the remainder of the day or the rest of the week so that they can absorb what has happened and then arranging to come in to pick up belongings or speak with co-workers. (Note: If an employee does not leave immediately, the employer may be providing working notice.)
  •  Review any specific health concerns for the employee and take appropriate steps to manage.
    • If there are health concerns that either the manager or the company’s health services are aware of, they need to be considered during or immediately after the termination. Ask if the health concern necessitates immediate availability of a health care professional or first aider to be able to offer assistance. Feelings of extreme anxiety, panic, or being overwhelmed may cause underlying conditions to surface and create an urgent situation.
  •  Plan a safe way for the person to get home. People may seem capable of getting home or to another safe location, but be prepared to assist them – offer to call a family member or a friend to pick them up or call a taxi. The person may be reluctant to call family as they have not had the opportunity at this point to sort out breaking this news to them.
  •  Ensure that support for the employee is available at the time of termination and into the future. Where possible, offer support of an EAP counsellor or an outplacement counsellor to be on site to meet with employee. Although sometimes the employee is not able or willing to talk due to the shock or from anger, at a minimum the counsellor can provide a connection that can be made the following day and assess if the employee is at any risk for self-harm.
  •  Determine the setting for the termination meeting. The termination meeting should be away from the employee’s actual work area but, if possible, within the confines of the workplace. Have items such as tissues, taxi vouchers, the details of the severance or termination package, and contact numbers for EAP readily available. Being well prepared will allow you to focus on the person and not be looking for needed items.
  •  Develop the relevant severance package. Consider reasonable or required severance amounts, continuation of benefits, and EAP support. The more supportive the package is perceived to be by the employee, the more likely he or she will be able to move past the event. The psychological bond between the person and their employer has been broken and feelings of great disappointment, shock, denial, relief, and anger are common. These feelings can create barriers to the person’s future success. With a fair package, the employee’s perception may be, "My employer at least cared and valued me enough to make sure I was in a place where I could support myself and my family." People can benefit from this kind of support while rebounding from the event and going on the new job search.
  •  Plan for the tone of the actual termination meeting. The meeting is to be respectful and dignified for the employee. Even if you are dealing with gross misconduct, you are dealing with another human being who has their own problems, now likely made worse because of the termination. This is not the time to be rude, defensive, vengeful, or spiteful. Showing compassion, being considerate, and showing kindness given the difficulty of the situation may be appreciated and remembered by the employee.

The leader

  •  Ensure the manager has participated in the termination decision or is made aware of the basis for the decision. Terminating an employee can be one the most stressful and difficult actions for a manager. It may be important to the manager’s sense of ethics and values to believe that the termination is the right thing to do for the business or their work team when everything is considered. This means that the manager needs experienced and knowledgeable people to talk to about this very difficult decision so that they can manage their own feelings of anxiety and keep it in perspective.
  •  Prepare the manager for the actual event of terminating the employee by doing "dry runs". Rehearsing the termination meeting by running through various scenarios and how the manager can most effectively respond may help decrease the manager’s anxiety during the period preceding the termination meeting.
  •  Avoid use of speaking notes during the termination meeting. These are not generally recommended for physical use during the actual termination meeting, as they appear (and are) rehearsed and are remembered very negatively by the person being terminated. Speaking notes may be of value for the manager to practice from while trying to still maintain authenticity in the way they communicate during the meeting.
  •  Concerns expressed regarding violence during or after the termination meeting must be taken seriously and explored well ahead of the termination meeting. The manager may be a good judge of the employee’s likely response to the termination. They may even know about their personal or home situation. If a manager is concerned that the person could become violent, this needs to be thoroughly examined by a trauma counsellor who may be available through EAP or other services. Various checklists can be completed to assess propensity for violence, but of course these would not be definitive.
  •  Offer the manager post-termination support. This will include the manager’s boss and/or even a higher level such as a VP coming to meet with the manager very soon after the termination. The manager may appreciate reassurance that they did the right thing and an opportunity to talk about the sequence of events to help sort out the experience in a logical way. Offer EAP support where available. Provide the manager with the option to have someone accompany them to the meeting with staff (if applicable) if they feel uncomfortable discussing the termination with them. Check in again later in the week.

The co-workers

  •  Develop a communication plan to inform others. Ensure that those working closest to the terminated employee hear this news first from their manager. Although the amount of information and how widely it is communicated varies according to position and corporate practices, it is important to communicate to those who will be affected by the termination. The manager will often want to meet with immediate co-workers either as a group or one by one. The amount of information is usually restricted to the fact the person is no longer working with the team, but other employee concerns may be expressed, such as:
    •  how the person will be replaced or if they will be replaced
    •  how the work will be reassigned (have a plan for how the work will be managed moving forward, or if possible engage the remaining team in developing the plan together)
    •  how the person’s desk and equipment will be used/repurposed
      • for those who had a close relationship with the person, let them know that they don’t need management permission to contact the terminated employee
    •  worry that their own jobs are at risk
    Any of these questions are normal and expected as co-workers try to sort out the new working situation. It is best to prepare responses to these questions in advance with your direct report
  •  The manager should strive to be available in the days following a termination. As questions or concerns come up from co-workers, the manager should be available to help dispel rumours, decrease anxiety, and help co-workers process what has happened. If a co-worker did not have a positive relationship with the terminated employee, there can be some feelings of responsibility or guilt.
  •  The manager should also create opportunities to bring the remaining team members together in a meaningful way. One suggestion is to gather co-workers for some of the team building exercises provided in Building Stronger Teams – Supporting Effective Team Leaders. Perhaps begin with an exercise asking co-workers to write a note about how other people in the workplace have made a positive difference to them. This restores faith in the positive influences that exist in the workplace even during times of change.  It’s important, however, that the manager avoid implying that jobs are safe and that there won’t be future terminations.

The content on this page was contributed by Susan Jakobson, RN, CHRP Principal, Jakobson Consulting & Analytics