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Conducting Terminations with Less Stress

by Yvonne Nellums, PHR, SHRM-CP, on March 12, 2019
One of the hardest tasks a manager performs is terminating an employee.  It is never easy to tell someone you are taking his or her livelihood away.  Unless the employee has done something egregious enough for immediate termination, preplanning is key.  If you have constantly coached your employee regarding performance issues, the news should not come as a surprise.  Clear communication should have taken place with the employee prior to reaching this point.  The expectations of the position and the corrective actions needed should have already been discussed.  Once it is evident the necessary corrections have not been made, then it is time to move to the termination process. 

While each discharge situation is unique and can be complicated, it is important to prepare in advance so you are working from a place that is organized.  Here are some tips to follow when faced with this task to help reduce stress and keep you focused.
  • Schedule a private time and place for the meeting – It is best to schedule the meeting out of the way of other employees that might see or hear the conversation.  I highly recommend that you meet with the employee face-to-face.  Firing someone by text, voice mail, or e-mail is not a good practice.  It adds insult to an already emotional situation.  Treat your employees with respect even when they make it tough to do so.  
  • Review your documentation – Documentation is key in termination cases.  Documents that state the legitimate business reasons for termination, performance reasons, or behavioral reasons will support the actions taken.  If taken to court, you want to be able to show there is a clear business reason that confirms the need for the termination. 
  • Remain calm – Sticking to the facts and discussing the situation without emotion helps to keep things from escalating to a point where you say something that could potentially harm you or your company. I suggest having a script in front of you to follow to ensure you cover the items that need to be discussed prior to the employee’s departure.
  • Have a witness present – The witness should be an HR professional or managerial employee who is not emotionally invested in the situation.  The witness is present to verify what occurs during the meeting.  I ask witnesses to take notes while I’m conducting the termination to ensure we have a record of the events. 
  • Get straight to the point – Don’t leave the employee guessing about why the meeting is taking place.  I’ve witnessed managers take up to 10 minutes to get to the point.  Go straight to the heart of the matter and let the employee know the decision has been made and it is final.  Be strong in your commitment because once an employee thinks you will waiver it will be harder to keep the meeting on track.  Do not allow yourself to be drawn into an argument.  It is up to you to control the meeting.   
  • Tell the employee the truth – Always give the employee the real reason for the termination.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen managers refuse to state the real reason for fear of a confrontation.  They will say things such as “this is the slow season” or “we’re having a layoff” when the real reason is related to performance.  You aren’t doing the employee any favors by not addressing the performance issues.  If the employee is not told the true reason for termination, he or she will not know how to improve in future employment situations. 
  • Listen to what the employee has to say – Even though your decision is final, it is only fair to allow the employee the opportunity to state his or her point of view.  Be sure to keep control of the conversation so the meeting doesn’t deteriorate into allowing emotions to ramp up and change the focus of the meeting. 
  • Be open-minded – If, during the termination meeting, something comes to light that may change the decision, be prepared to suspend the employee until a more thorough investigation can take place. 
  • Discuss transition issues – At the conclusion of the meeting it is important to discuss items such as the return of company property, the removal of the employee’s personal belongings, future benefits (COBRA), 401K rollover, any contractual issues such as non-compete agreements, employee agreements, severance agreements, payout of PTO, etc.
  • Maintain confidentiality – I have to remind managers to resist the urge to discuss the termination with their other employees.  Many times the manager wishes to use this event as a lesson to other employees.  It is important to discuss the termination only with those who have a legitimate need to know.  Even though employees are dying to know details, they will not trust managers that share this type of information with others.  They recognize that if the manager will talk about others, then the manager will most likely share information about them also.    
Termination meetings are stressful for the manager and the employee.  By following these steps, you should be able to lessen the stress for all involved.
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Yvonne Nellums, PHR, SHRM-CP

Certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Society of Human Resources – Certified Professional (SHRM-CP), Yvonne serves as Director of Human Resources for LandrumHR. She has over 34 years of experience of comprehensive human resources management. She is responsible for a team of certified HR professionals who deliver human resources expertise and training to our client customers. Her experience in the field has been acquired through focus on labor and employee relations, employment law compliance, talent acquisition, and conflict resolution. Yvonne is a Past President of the Greater Pensacola Society for Human Resources Management, past Legislative Director on the HR Florida State Council of SHRM, and served in various leadership roles for SHRM.

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