How to fire someone without destroying their self esteem

Telling an employee they’re fired, no matter how much you dislike them, is never an easy task for the HR manager.

Such a delicate situation needs to be managed carefully to avoid creating additional distress or potential psychological trauma for the employee.

Trying to soften the blow by saying “Hey mate I don’t really agree with this, but it’s something the organisation is making me do”, is not a good idea, says Dr Alan McGilvray, Norvox leadership coach and former CEO and Chairman of Bayer Australia & New Zealand.

“In my view the biggest mistake managers make is to apologise for the impending action,” McGilvray told HC Online.

“Managers need to stick to the facts of the matter/process and not to get personal about anything.”

McGilvray says honesty is the best policy in these situations. If staff are being let go because of issues with their performance, then this needs to be explained to them clearly, with incidences documented.

“If they’re being fired for cost cutting or overstaffing reasons, tell them the metrics,” McGilvray says.

He says a “bad” firing experience can have tremendous negative impact on a person’s self-worth and managers need to be well-trained and supported in how to manage termination conversations.

While employees will not thank you for firing them, the best thing you can as a HR professional is help create an atmosphere which will allow them to leave with their dignity and with minimal emotional distress, says Kate McCormack, Executive Director of People, Learning & Culture at Mercy Health Group.

“I have been raised to treat people the way I would like to be treated,” McCormack told HC Online.

“Terminating someone’s employment is never easy and people will never thank you. They will never like the decision, but it is critical they leave the organisation with their dignity.”

McCormack says the values of compassion and respect are pivotal to Mercy Health’s recruitment and termination strategies.

“For us at Mercy Health it always comes back to our values and the question: ‘How would you like to be treated if the roles were reversed?’”, she says.

The organization also has strategies and programs in place to assist employees in their transition to new areas of employment.

“We always offer our employees the Employee Assistance Program and, where appropriate, a Career Transition Program,” McCormack says.

“The decision and process for the employee and the employer is never an easy one, and I personally have never enjoyed terminating someone’s employment.”

She says some absolute no-no’s for HR to be aware when faced with the task of firing someone includes not breaking the bad news electronically or via video conference.

“The employee deserves a face-to-face meeting,” McCormack says.

“Don’t take it personally if the response is emotional and don’t be afraid of silence because it allows the person the opportunity to absorb the information.”

McCormack’s top tips for fellow HR professionals when faced with firing employees are:

  • Make sure it is not their birthday or anniversary of employment!
  • Be respectful, remain professional and follow due process.
  • Practice the conversation with a colleague or family member—it is better to over prepare.
  • Always have a colleague review your documentation.
  • There is no room for error.
  • Depending on the circumstances allow the employee to have an opportunity for closure and to say farewell to colleagues. It’s important for their leaving story.
  • It’s alright to be nervous—you will at least appear human!
  • It is important to have a sound process that is fair and equitable; however, you are dealing with a human