Saturday 21 October 2017

I have to fire an employee - how do I approach this as I've never had to do it before?

Letting an employee go is one of the toughest situations you’ll face — so be professional Stock image
Letting an employee go is one of the toughest situations you’ll face — so be professional Stock image

Michelle Murphy

Question: I have been a manager of a software company for a number of years. I have successfully dealt with a number of issues, such as confronting people on their performance, etc. However, a more serious issue has arisen with one employee.

We have gone through all the internal steps (including a series of warnings, etc) with this individual and the final conclusion is that we need to terminate their employment. I have never done this and the idea of having the conversation is making me feel uncomfortable. How do I approach this situation with confidence?

Answer: This is a difficult situation for any manager. It's never easy and can be stressful for all involved. It can be difficult to draw a line in the sand as emotions can run high.

Some employees may have convinced themselves that they will never get terminated as they believe they have been trying to improve and that you may accept this extra effort. However, if performance has not improved dramatically or a situation has disimproved you have to deal with it.

My feeling is that many companies wait too long to deliver the bad news, as managers feel they want to give the benefit of the doubt to the person. But often a false hope sets in on the part of the employee, so do not procrastinate.

There are a number of steps I'd recommend:

Gather all facts: Always document any problems and the company's responses, such as discussions, verbal warnings, etc. Keep a log that includes dates, times and relevant details - it is not a crime to be specific and factual. Include situations observed by supervisors, situations reported by co-workers and complaints by customers.

Don't terminate without warning: There should be no surprises unless it is gross misconduct and an immediate termination. The employee should experience coaching and performance feedback over time so they can see why they are failing. Provide whatever assistance is needed to encourage and support them and document a performance plan for them. A performance-improvement plan (PIP) will give the employee specific goals with measurable improvement requirements. This may be all that is needed to get their performance back on track. If not, you need to devise an exit plan.

Read more: What's best way to manage colleague who is also a friend now I have been promoted?

Meet face-to-face: Never terminate an employee's contract without sitting down with them - give them the courtesy that you would extend to any human being. This sets the tone around your ethics as an employer and how you deal with people.

Have a witness present: Afford a fair hearing to your employee with someone from HR or another member of the management team. Ask them to take the notes and ensure the discussion remains on track. Follow this process in all such circumstances so your employees feel they are treated fairly, equally, and with professionalism. This limits your liability in difficult situations.

Avoid lengthy conversations: Avoid pleasantries which may give the wrong impression so there is no room for misinterpretation or ambiguity. If the employee has received coaching and a performance improvement process then they have already received feedback so you don't need to go through it all again. They may still ask 'why?' so do have a concise answer ready - and stick to this line!

Don't argue or blame: An employee may want to retaliate ­- just listen, don't engage in a tit-for-tat discussion and don't point the finger of blame. Tell them you "understand they feel that way," but that the decision is final. Once you've stated the facts, don't get drawn into further explanation.

Avoid any drama: Have your meeting in a neutral, private place such as a conference room - you don't want to humiliate them in front of colleagues. Once the news has been delivered, escort the employee to gather any personal belongings and collect their access keys and any company belongings. Do not leave a terminated employee alone with sensitive files or systems, as their judgement may not be the best at that time.

Thank them: Depending on the situation it does not hurt to state you appreciate their contribution to the company - but keep it simple. Firing someone is never easy but stay calm and professional. Leaving a poor performing or disruptive employee in place is never good for business and as a manager you are responsible to manage the business.

Michelle Murphy is director of Collins McNicholas, Recruitment & HR Services Group, which has offices in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Sligo, Athlone and Limerick. Send career questions to sundaybusiness@independent.ie

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