8 Tips That Can Help a Termination of Employment Meeting Go Smoothly

One of the most stressful meetings you will have as a manager is one in which you will have a termination of employment discussion.  Whether the termination is the result of a layoff or due to poor performance, will not change the fact that it is a stressful situation.  Unfortunately, this is not one of those things that gets easier the more you to it.  The fact is you'll never be good at it, nor should you want to be.  However what you do want is to be humane, deliver the message, treat the employee with dignity and respect, and protect yourself and the company.  That's a lot to do in a 10-15 minute meeting. 

Here are 8 tips that will get you prepared so the termination discussion goes as smoothly as it possibly can: 

  • Do not take this personally.  When making the decision for this final step, many managers think they are a failure because the employee's performance did not improve.  However, it is important to remember this is a business decision.   If you have provided consistent feedback and coaching, and given the employee every opportunity to be successful, then you have done your part.  The employee has to do their part and incorporate the feedback and coaching you provided.  
  • Document. Document. Document.    Document the dates and details of any performance feedback discussions with the employee.  
  • Work closely with your Human Resources (HR) department. They are there to guide you through this process and ensure the employee is being treated equitably. The first thing the HR representative will ask for is your documentation.   Good documentation protects you, the employee, and the organization and can minimize the possibility of future litigation.  
  • Understand the difference between your role and that of HR.  Managers (and employees) often think that managers are responsible for hiring people and HR is responsible for firing them.  This is not the case.  As a manager, you made the decision to hire the employee.  You are the one who directs their work and assesses their performance.  Therefore, you are the one who must deliver the message during the termination of employment meeting.  HR is there to support you.  
  • Ask for talking points.  In order to avoid saying the wrong things, going off topic, or talking too much, ask the HR representative to provide you with talking points.  This is a short bullet-pointed list of what you are to say during the discussion.  If you have to read it word for word, read it.  It's better to stick to the script than go off on a tangent and say something inappropriate.  
  • Do a dry run with HR.  Role playing the meeting with HR allows you to practice delivering the message and what you will say in response to comments or questions from the employee.  Note:  Be sure to state the reason for the meeting right up front. For example, "The reason for this meeting is to terminate your employment with XYZ Company effective today."  Stating this up front will set the tone of the meeting.  
  • Establish a transition phrase.  The one thing you can not predict is how someone will react to the news that their employment is at an end.  Some people get really quiet, some cry, some question the decision, and some get angry and verbally abusive.   Prior to the meeting, you and the HR representative should agree on a phrase to signal that your role in the discussion has ended, and they will take over should the meeting take a downhill turn.  
  • Manage the logistics.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:
    • This discussion should take place in a private conference room with the HR  representative present, or in the Human Resources department.  
    • Have a box of tissues in the room. Some employees will cry because they are shocked, angry, hurt, disappointed, etc.  
    • Arrange the seating so the employee sits near the door.  If the employee gets angry and wants to walk out of the meeting, it is better if you are not between them and the door.  

Termination discussions are not easy.  Recognize that you will be nervous.  The night before the meeting you may be anxious and not sleep well.  During the meeting you may experience sweaty palms, dry mouth, or an increased heart rate.  You are human and this is an uncomfortable situation. However, incorporating these tips will help to minimize your anxiety, and help the meeting go as smoothly as it possibly can. 

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