We always hope employment relationships go according to plan; however, there are times when employers may be faced with separating an employee due to inappropriate behavior or a failure to meet performance expectations. At other times, the business needs of the organization may necessitate a reduction in staffing levels. Situations will vary, and the context of each will inform how to best approach the termination meeting. Taking the time to frame the meeting in advance may help reduce the chance of employees engaging in violent behavior or taking legal action as a result of the termination.
Termination meetings are never pleasant, and many leaders or HR practitioners agonize over what to say and how to say it. Things tend to go poorly if an employee is caught by surprise. Ideally, appropriate steps have been taken to communicate the performance or behavior concerns along with the consequences for failing to meet stated expectations. In cases where the loss of employment is tied to the business needs of the organization, a best practice approach is to inform employees of the circumstances as far in advance as practicable.
In determining whether the separation is equitable, consistent, and driven by business necessity, employers should consider whether the employee knew the expectation, standard, or policy and whether similarly situated employees are performing at the same standard or under the same set of expectations. Inconsistencies in practice increase feelings of unfairness, which may lead to lawsuits and other issues.
Once the decision is made to separate, prepare for and conduct the meeting. The meeting should be brief, no more than five minutes or so, and the person responsible for delivering the message should get to the point quickly and calmly. Remember that the time for negotiation is over, and the purpose of the conversation is intended to relay the decision. This will help keep the meeting focused and moving forward. Gather any organizational items such as keys, badges, credit cards, etc., and offer to collect the employee’s belongings or schedule a time for the employee to return and retrieve personal items. Treating people with respect and allowing them to preserve a sense of dignity may leave them feeling a bit more positive about being freed to flourish elsewhere.