I’m terrible at break-ups. I once broke up with a long-term boyfriend by refusing to take his calls. No explanation. No note. No text. No smoke signals. I was just done.
For some people (apparently me), breaking up is hard to do.
The same can be said about letting employees go. Because it’s such a remarkably awkward thing to do, many of us go about it in all of the wrong ways.
Here are six things you can do to make breaking-up less painful for all parties involved.
(If you’re not looking to fire anyone soon, but you might be on the verge of ending a dating relationship, this advice conveniently applies to both scenarios!)
- Be kind. Even if the employee has brought you to the point of irritation, frustration, and exasperation, muster all of the kindness you can before dropping the bomb. Remember that for someone in the free-market universe, a job isn’t just a job. It is a reflection of deeply held beliefs. It’s a calling. It’s personal. And for most of us, a big part of our identity is derived from our career. Deliver the news gently and be as empathetic as you can.
- Don’t blindside the employee. If you’ve been doing your job as a manager, the firing won’t come as a surprise to the employee. By the time you get to the pink slip phase, you should have had multiple documented discussions with the staff member about performance. You should have been explicit about the problem(s), the improvement you needed to see, and the time frame within you needed to see those improvements. And if you’ve been doing those things, the employee probably knows exactly why you’ve called him into the conference room at 9am on a Monday.Remember, if you fire an employee after years of consistently stellar performance reviews, something is amiss on your end.
- Be honest about why things didn’t work out (if your lawyer lets you). If it’s possible to do so, be forthcoming with the employee about why things didn’t work out. What you share should be consistent with the aforementioned performance reviews.Without going too deeply into specifics or berating the employee, help him understand why it came to this point. Again, if you’ve been doing your job, the employee should already know.Strangely, I hear from many people who have no idea why they were fired. While some employers were probably directed by attorneys to stay quiet on this topic, I suspect the majority of them were simply trying to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, if you’re knee-deep in a termination discussion, it’s a little too late to avoid confrontation. Best to put on your big boy pants and be honest about what happened.
- Provide constructive feedback. Ok, not all newly fired employees are going to be in the mood for a fun game of “20 Ways You Can Improve and Avoid Getting Canned in the Future.” But if you sense the employee desires feedback, it might be helpful to share — especially if the person will be hanging around the liberty movement. He/she may not be ready to internalize the feedback on the spot, but as time passes, your words will likely prove to be helpful.And I hate to sound redundant, but this feedback should be consistent with the performance reviews.
- Look inward. If you have to fire an employee, it’s a good occasion to ask yourself as a manager what you may have done differently or where you may have fallen short. It’s probably best not to share this information with the employee, but even internally acknowledging your own shortcomings will make you a better manager. As is the case in dating relationships, there’s usually plenty of blame to go around.
- Remember it’s a small liberty movement. Chances are you will cross paths again with your former employee. It is for this reason that I suggest you be kind, honest, forthcoming, and constructive. Doing so will maximize the probability that you and the departing employee will maintain a positive relationship well into the future.Sound far-fetched? Trust me: it can happen. Regretfully, I had to fire an employee many moons ago. I tried incredibly hard to do all of these things. She walked away knowing that while that particular role wasn’t a great fit, she was very gifted in other areas. I took the time to consider where I fell short as a manager, and as a result, I reimagined the role she had been in and the expectations for it. I am pleased to say that she has allowed me to serve as a reference for her in the years since. All’s well that ends well!
Speaking of all’s well that ends well…if you’re still feeling sorry for the poor fellow I broke-up with so callously, you shouldn’t. His name is Mr. Dixon.
Oh, and he’s an employment attorney and told me to include this note: these recommendations are based on my experience in the free-market universe and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. Each termination has its own considerations that may warrant contacting an attorney.