8 Tips for Terminating an Employee Gracefully

By September 14, 2017 March 24th, 2024 Common Business Problems

Last Updated on March 24, 2024 by Dave Schoenbeck

Terminating an employee is far from fun. For many business leaders, it never gets easier—whether it’s completing a round of company layoffs or terminating a problematic employee. 

Three business people have a serious discussion depicting terminating an employee gracefully

Here are 8 tips to help when terminating an employee.

1. Be prepared beforehand.

Organize your thoughts: Have a plan and create a list of answers to possible questions. Pick a quiet, private place and ask to speak with your employee late in the day or toward the end of their shift so they can leave without embarrassment. It’s best to arrange for a witness to join you during your meeting, preferably another person in upper management. Never invite an employee with equal seniority to the worker being terminated.

2. Be aware of your attitude about the termination.

Terminating an employee is uncomfortable for everyone involved. That being said, remember what’s most important: In the end, you are doing this person a favor by helping them grow, change, and move on to a new role where they have a chance to be successful.

Over the years, I have had people reconnect with me and tell me they knew they were failing and had anxiety about their performance. Most agreed it was best they were freed to pursue a different career.

3. Get to the point quickly.

Don’t draw out the conversation. State the main reasons for the termination, but don’t dwell on a long list of failures. Your goal is to complete the termination while preserving their self-respect.

Keep the meeting short and focused. Though you should be prepared to answer questions, also give them a written list of answers to FAQs, such as whether they’re eligible for unemployment benefits, what tasks must be completed before they leave for the day, and so on. Their emotions may overwhelm their focus on questions and next steps.

4. Take ownership of the decision.

Even if multiple people are involved in the decision, they are not currently terminating an employee; you are. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning that the team is in agreement, but you must be firm in asserting that it’s very much your decision to let them go.

5. Don’t get into a debate.

Be persistent and professional. Control your emotions and try to be somewhat passive. You can’t be angry or sad. Don’t apologize for the decision, listen to or entertain excuses, or make accommodations. The decision was made, and it’s time for everyone to move forward.

6. Don’t make promises.

Again, control your emotions. Though it can be tempting in some situations – maybe you know the worker is struggling to care for a family member or has run into personal health issues – it’s essential to let them know you can’t help in their new employment search.

If you are conducting company layoffs due to downsizing and the decision is not based on poor performance or other employee issues, it’s okay to offer letters of recommendation if asked. If you are terminating a problematic employee, don’t agree to write such letters.

7. Give yourself time to debrief your preparation and performance.

This won’t be the last time you must let someone go. Chances are you’ll be doing it many times in the future. Make notes for yourself and evaluate what you could improve on for next time.

8. Plan for future success.

Please commit to yourself so that you can better screen candidates and manage employee performance from now on. While you’ll likely be terminating an employee again someday, pre-employment assessments for all finalists will help protect you from making terminations an unfortunate habit.

Though terminating an employee may feel uncomfortable, a concrete plan will make the process smoother. By following the tips above, you’ll create a repeatable system for the overall health of your business.

Leading a team and managing their performance and outcomes requires expanding your skills. If you would like help to develop your leadership skills, fill out my contact form for a complimentary one-hour video coaching session with me

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