Firing An Employee: How to Take Care of the Rest of Your Team

By Merge Gupta-Sunderji

Firing an employee is likely one of the toughest things you’ve ever had to do as a supervisor or manager. You lost some sleep, sucked it up, took a deep breath and did it. So the hard part is over now, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, the hardest part is taking care of those who are left behind. The biggest challenges lie in the hours, days, weeks, and even months following.

Any kind of employee termination can have a negative impact on the other members of your team unless you take positive steps to overcome it. Even if your employees “saw it coming” or felt “it’s about time,” the termination leaves remaining staff feeling insecure and vulnerable. Which means that you must take action, or run the risk of having your team weaken and falter. What should you do to get your people re-grouped, re-focused, and moving forward? Concentrate on four things.

Be swift
Within minutes of the axe falling, gather your team together in one room and bring them up to date. In-person is always best, but have remote employees call in on a conference line if necessary. They need to hear from you (and not through the company’s grapevine which is crackling with electricity at this very moment). Explain the situation with as much honesty as you possibly can, but obviously without violating the departed employee’s privacy.

This conversation with your staff is critical: I have worked with far too many organizations that choose not to discuss the subject because they are concerned about confidentiality issues or negative employee response. But the reality is that the rumor mill is working overtime, and if there is an information vacuum, employees dream up scenarios and possibilities. Invariably, what they make up is always the worst possible state of affairs. Instead of starving the rumor mill, it is actually in your (and your department’s) best interest to feed it with as much accurate information as you can.

Be specific
Don’t make vague statements, they’ll only fuel the rumor mill. Tell your staff exactly how many people were let go. Give details about sales projections and cost overruns that were the basis of your decision. Explain exactly which company policy was violated. Make it clear the decision to terminate was not made lightly; that the employee was given several opportunities to improve his performance before he was finally let go. But speak in specifics, not generalities.

Answer questions
The most frequent reason managers give for not wanting to discuss the subject in the first place is the dread of questions they think they can’t answer. “I don’t know what to tell them” is a common refrain. But your people need to ask questions – it is part of the process that allows them to “move on”. For some, their pain is based in the fear of being next on the chopping block; others will be mourning lost friends, and some will be focused on whether their workload is going to increase. No matter what the reason, your staff need to ask questions, and you need to answer … as honestly and completely as you can. Again, a good rule is to tell all, without violating the privacy of a terminated individual. And don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” People appreciate an honest answer over silence.

Reassure them
Granted, if you responded with “I don’t know” you may not be in a position to provide full reassurance. But as long as it’s true, it’s important to point out that the departed employee was fired after she was given ample opportunity to turn her performance around. Similarly, if it’s true, tell your people that this was the only round of cutbacks, and no more are anticipated. Your people need to be bolstered, and they need you to restore their confidence. When a co-worker is fired, it creates anxiety and uncertainty in even the most seasoned professionals. As the leader, it’s up to you to take care of those left behind.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP, turns managers into leaders by giving them specific and practical how-to steps to create high-performing, productive, and positive workplaces. Contact her at www.turningmanagersintoleaders.com or 403.605.4756.

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