Kinder and Gentler Terminations

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Can firing an employee ever be an act of kindness?  If they are just not right for the job, have no future with the company, and are miserable every day, firing the employee might just be the best thing.  On the other hand, firing an employee should be the last resort after making every effort to help her be successful.

In a recent New York Times interview, Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of Kind, shared his thoughts on hiring and firing employees.  Employers take a lot of time and energy to hire the right people.  They make the hiring decisions, train and coach employees.  If things don’t work out, they have a measure of responsibility to make the exit process as kind as possible. 

When performance is the issue, leaders should offer constructive criticism.  The word criticism can often be the problem.  Just hearing the word makes people defensive.  Feedback is a kinder word, and offers insight and advice for making improvements.  Some employees pick things up slower.  There is a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation of rules, procedures, policies and expectations in any new job.  Giving constructive feedback early and as often as needed can often turn things around and help an employee improve performance.

If things don’t improve, it can be the person isn’t capable of the job, or could just be in the wrong place.  Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great,” talks about putting the right people on the bus and the right people in the right seats.  You may have a great employee who is just in the wrong job.  Take the time to find out what an employee is good at and how he might fit into another job.  After all, you’ve already spent a lot of time and money recruiting this person.  It’s better to find a place where he can excel than give up and have to start all over again.

You can set an employee up with a 30-day improvement plan and then follow-up to make course corrections along the way.  If that doesn’t work, the disciplinary process takes over.  Be honest with employees about consequences if things don’t improve.  There shouldn’t be any surprises or mixed messages.  Just like an employee is supposed to give an employer a two-week notice so they can try to fill a position before it’s vacant, an employer can give an employee the heads up so he/she can try to find another job before the current one runs out. 

Terminating an employee doesn’t have to be traumatic for employer or employee.  Unless an employee is known to cause trouble or has threatened some type of retaliation, it isn’t necessary to call out the security forces and escort them around the office or plant and walk them out the door.  Allow an employee to save face and leave with some dignity.  After all, they already lost their job and livelihood. 

Losing a job isn’t a disgrace.  There are lots of reasons why employees aren’t right for a job.  Regardless of the reason, it’s a difficult time for a former employee, faced with finding a new job.  Making it as kind a separation as possible is good for employee and employer alike.


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