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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Forget The Donald: Follow the golden rule when firing employees

By Linda White
Special to The Sun


Each week, fans of The Apprentice watched Donald Trump point his finger at a wannabe protege and dump them with a curt, "You're Fired!" But when it comes to terminating a member of your staff, there's a better way, human resource professionals believe.
PAUL GOLDENBERG
BlueFrog Career Transitions


"It's tough for anybody to be fired. Companies don't often think about how that employee is feeling, but they can support them," says Paul Goldenberg, founder of BlueFrog Career Transitions in Toronto. "The grief of loss is the same cycle as losing a parent or loved one, though hopefully for a shorter time."

Goldenberg recently hosted a workshop for HR professionals called Softening the Blow...Taking the Sting Out of Termination. He believes companies must be better prepared to deal with the emotional repercussions of both the terminated employee and the person delivering the blow.

"You want to follow the golden rule: treat them the same way you'd want to be treated," Goldenberg says. "Nobody looks forward to firing someone, but it does get easier. I think it's good if you realize it's not a nice thing to have to do. But it's one thing to be empathetic and another to be sympathetic. You want to be sensitive to them and their needs, but you don't want to be sympathetic."

Before letting someone go, do your homework -- consulting a lawyer if necessary. Consider the best time to hold the termination meeting and hold it in the employee's office or a neutral location, such as the boardroom.

Keep the meeting short -- 10 to 15 minutes should be enough. "You don't want to be there. They don't want to be there. Get to the point," says Kathy Murphy, a director with BackCheck and owner of Starting at Nine consulting services.
KATHY MURPHY
Starting at Nine consulting


Company policy may dictate who will deliver the blow, but it's important to have a witness on hand, Goldenberg says. He believes an employee being fired because of their performance and not as the result of a merger, acquisition or downsizing shouldn't be surprised. "There should have been enough verbal and written notice about their performance that they have a clue about what's going on."

He encourages you to familiarize yourself with the employee's personnel file. Prepare the termination package and write a termination letter that explains the cause, timeline and includes all the information the employee needs to know.

During the meeting, state the reason for termination and tell the employee what you will say to remaining staff. Walk the employee through the termination letter and, if applicable, discuss the severance package. Remind the employee of any confidentiality or non-compete agreements.

After the meeting, collect all company property in the employee's possession and allow them to pack their personal belongings. Safeguard sensitive and confidential data, but allow the employee to leave with dignity, says Murphy. Rather than an escort, she suggests allowing a friend walk them to the car or taxi or to drive them home.

Want to get out
TERMINATION TIPS
Firing an employee can be a difficult but necessary task. BlueFrog Career Transitions offers the following tips:
  • Terminate an employee early in the week, preferably just before lunch or at the end of the working day.
  • Keep the meeting short and state the reason for termination.
  • Anticipate the emotions the employee will feel.
  • Walk the employee through the termination/severance package.
  • Refer the employee to career transition or outplacement services.
    -- Visit www.bluefrog.ca to learn more.


  • "People just want to get out of the situation, not create problems, not steal, not sabotage the organization," Murphy says. "Maybe those thoughts have come before the termination ... or after when they have time to roll over the conversation in their minds -- which they will do often, looking for the clue as to, 'Why me?'"

    Murphy encourages the person delivering the blow to choose their words carefully.

    "What is said in the termination interview will last a lifetime," she says. "Most times, people leave the building and will call their friends in the company to let them know they were terminated and ask what is being said about them, so the word gets out immediately."

    It's important for a company to address the termination with fellow staff members -- even if to reassure them their co-worker was terminated for business reasons. "The reason for the termination however, is between the outgoing employee and the company," Murphy says. "It is just no one else's business -- ever."

    Finally, look after yourself and make sure you have the support you may need.



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