15 things you should never do when letting an employee go

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You’re fired! Sacked! Terminated! …Let go? No matter which words you use, the fatal phrase is not going to sound very gentle to the employee who hears it. As the boss, you’ll likely feel sadness, guilt, and frustration along the way. And everyone else in your workplace will be affected, too.

Letting an employee go is a matter of emotions as much as it is about business. But thankfully, good business practice sets a framework for minimizing the emotional toll.

Approach the process with empathy and professionalism, and you will cover all bases the best you can. Storm into the process unprepared, however, and the repercussions can be costly.

If you fail to prepare or to engage your team with sensitivity, the risks include:

  • Being sued for wrongful dismissal.
  • Compromising workplace morale.
  • Causing preventable levels of distress and/or humiliation.
  • Compromising the security or welfare of your business.

Every manager will have to fire an employee at some point. But not every manager learns how to do so in a way that protects the employee, the business, and the team. Despite what television teaches us, businesses thrive on compassion and positivity rather than fear and high drama.

How to Fire Someone with Compassion

Headway Capital surveyed a range of professional resources to come up with a checklist of what not to do when dismissing a member of staff. We found 15 temptations that managers face when the deed must be done – and our new infographic includes 15 better approaches to letting someone go.

For example, you may have cooked up a long and convoluted explanation for the sacking. An explanation you hope will help your employee receive the news rationally. Drop it. Lead with the bad news – “I’ve called you in today because we need to let you go” – and follow with brief, clear reasons. Don’t make up excuses to cushion the truth, but do be diplomatic to protect their feelings.

Protecting feelings doesn’t mean being sympathetic. “Bosses must recognize the difference between empathy and compassion (which are useful in this context) and sympathy or sorrow (which can be counterproductive),” advises Joel Peterson, chair of JetBlue and Professor of Management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Sympathy is a no-no because it focuses on the emotions of the person delivering the news. As an empathetic boss, you’ll listen to the employee to figure out how they’re feeling – and to adjust your strategy as appropriate.

Finally, it’s helpful to remember that getting canned isn’t always a terrible thing. In the first place, if the job doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. But more optimistically, researchers have found that (for some positions) nine out of ten sacked employees find a new job that’s equal to or better than the job from which they were sacked.

Of course, it’s not wise to mention this while firing an employee. Instead, maintain an open workplace culture in which failure carries no negative baggage to ensure everyone emerges from those difficult days with an optimistic outlook. Because everybody makes mistakes – even the person responsible for doing the firing.

This article first appeared on Headwaycapital.com.