Firing staff

Tips For Firing Staff Over Poor Performance, Misconduct & Redundancy

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

There may come a time in your life when you have to fire a member of staff due to budget cuts, poor performance or for misconduct. Firing staff is usually a horrible, draining experience for anyone.

Here’s my advice for making this as easy as possible for both yourself and the person you are firing.

In my career I’ve had to let go of people because of poor performance, misconduct and also made people redundant in a downturn.

No matter what the circumstance, it has never been an easy experience.

I remember reading a book by Jack Welsh who mentioned that it was always best to fire someone who knew it was coming. I couldn’t agree more with that statement.

If someone is performing badly, they should have had several reviews before this day arrived. They should be well aware they are not performing to the level they need to be.

In every situation where this has been the case, the staff member has conceded they thought this might be coming. It’s not a great surprise and they’re not sitting there in shock over the decision, no matter how horrible the thought is that they just got fired due to poor performance.

But you don’t always have that luxury.

In one instance in my career, a staff member had sexually assaulted another which resulted in instant dismissal. There’s very little time to prepare for a situation like that. What’s more, it was from a staff member who was a key member of staff – someone who was achieving over and above what you’d ask for. It was a sour experience and not something you want to have to do very often.

Finally, there might be times when you’ll need to make people redundant. In another instance in my career a decision was made by the owner of the company that this had to happen immediately. I had little notice and worst of all, I had to let someone go who had only been with the company for 5 weeks! Compounding the situation, the owner had asked me to make that appointment only weeks earlier due to future projects coming online, but he had failed to receive finance approval for those projects. A horrible situation being left in the hot-seat and being the bearer of bad news due to someone else’s poor management.

Before I break down a few key points to keep in mind, I want to also encourage you to be prepared personally. It is taxing. It’s a stressful job. There’s no way to know how the staff member will react and you need to be prepared for any number of reactions.

Clear your mind. Breathe deeply. Rehearse if you have to. Then, get on with the job at hand in the most professional manner you can.

Be Honest

When it comes to firing someone, honesty is definitely the best policy. There is no point in lying to the person, or creating a cover story, always tell them the full truth of the matter.

Any employee, no matter how long they have worked for you, deserves to know the truth behind the reason for their firing. If you need to let members of staff go due to budget cuts, then just tell them the truth. Often this is much easier to handle then knowing that they were let go of because they didn’t do the job properly.

If, however, they were being fired because of poor performance then again you need to tell them that. This will enable them to learn from their mistakes, and hopefully perform better in their next job.

Be Direct

As well as being honest, you need to be direct. Never dodge the issues you need to talk about, always make it clear and state the reasons behind the firing.

Rather than wavering around the topic for a while, start by making an honest statement, and then lead into the main point of the conversation. It’s unkind and unfair to keep people waiting in suspense for the bad news; It’s much better to be direct and let them know exactly why they are there.

The rest of the discussion can then be used to answer any questions they may have about the process. Always stick with your decision, never allow the other person to beg, or argue their way back into a job. This is not an open discussion, the decision that they have been fired has already been made, so don’t mislead them into thinking they can get their job back.

Be Compassionate

Try and deliver the bad news in an understanding and sympathetic tone. This is someone’s livelihood your dealing with not to mention status, security and often lifestyle.

Your body language will play a big part in how the other person deals with the news. Try and fire someone the same way you would like to be fired if that day ever came.

Remember that the person across the table is a lot like you; they have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Be understanding to them and their responses.

In some cases the person being fired may become agitated or even angry. If this is the case, try to remember the anger is not against you, and it is a normal reaction to the situation. Never raise your voice, or retaliate with anger, this will only make the whole situation much worse. If you feel beforehand that the person may react badly, it might be best to bring someone else into the office with you when you deliver the bad news. They can act as a comfort, another sympathetic ear or simply as a witness in case things do get ugly.

It also helps to have a box of tissues handy. More often than not both female and male staff will get emotional with you. Having some tissues will allow them to compose themselves as quickly as they are able and also allow them to prepare themselves before walking back out of your office.

Provide Clear Instructions

After you have delivered the bad news, you will need to provide detailed instructions as to what they should do from now.

If they need to collect their things the same day, then tell them this, but first give them a few minutes to process the fact that you’re letting them go.

In some cases the firing may come as a big shock, which will prevent people from understanding or following the instructions you are giving them. Answer all the questions they have honestly, and clearly. You may have to repeat yourself several times in order for them to understand and take in everything you have said. I remember this happening on one occasion, where the staff member repeatedly asked me if what I was saying meant they were fired. Over the course of 20 minutes she asked me over a dozen times – I simply put that down to shock and her not being able to accept that was happening to her.

Do it Legally

Always make sure you are firing people in accordance to the current laws and regulations of the area you work in.

Do your research beforehand, and check your local or national legislation so you’re acting in accordance with the employment laws. Some laws require that you give employees several written warnings prior to firing them. Failure to comply with these laws could result in a legal case against your company.

Not only could a legal case be potentially very expensive, but it could damage your reputation and cause current members of staff to lose faith and confidence in the company.

Firing someone is never easy, but if you take these steps you’ll be best prepared and will make the task easier on both yourself and your employee.