Termination Series:

A Constructive Face-to-Face Termination

This article is a continuation of our termination series. To view the previous article, click here. This series will go over how a termination decision should be made, how the organization handles problems before making a termination and how to convey the news for a constructive face-to-face termination. There are specific guidelines when terminating because all of these factors will impact strongly on the employee’s perceptions, their consequent motivation to act on their emotion negatively and the way your current employees will view how you handle these and following situations. It’s up to you to make a termination something that is going to aid you and your practice or something that could collapse it.

The person doing the termination will be less likely to get distracted by emotions if the goals are kept in the forefront during the process. Concentrate on what is being attempted, not just the fact that you have to convey bad news, then anticipated fear and discomfort can usually be minimized.

Five goals can provide a direction for communication when announcing the termination:

  1. Convincing Them That It’s Best for Everyone: If the guidelines for making a termination decision are followed, you will probably have a good termination. Most employees who are in trouble know that there is trouble, but for economic reasons they just can’t admit that a termination might be justified. They are usually quite unhappy in their work, and were another job to be readily available, might thank you for the termination (at least in their own minds). In short, they know it’s a bad relationship that is extracting costs that are probably even more troublesome. Your goal is to try to help them understand the larger perspective; the relationship isn’t working out and should be terminated.
  2. Minimize Possibility of Legal Action: How the employee is treated during communication of the termination makes a significant difference in his or her state of mind immediately following the announcement. In short, how employees are handled can encourage or discourage them to “fight back” or move on with their lives. You want them to “move on.” Treat them with respect and understanding yet firmness throughout the process.
  3. Provide a Positive Exit and Build Self-Esteem: Few people are total washouts. Termination represents ending a relationship as opposed to indicating that the employee is a failure. Focus on this fact in an effort to make him/her feel worthwhile. Avoid anything that smacks of humiliation since you don’t intend to decrease his/her self-esteem.
  4. Minimize External/Internal Adverse Impact: Employees who are terminated usually have friends left behind. so how you handle the termination can impact on the morale of those people. Your goal is to minimize damaging that morale. How you convey the bad news can demonstrate a caring, sensitive organization or one that is arbitrary, uncommunicative, and insensitive. The employees left behind will have perceptions one way or another. You want them to have a positive one.
  5. Facilitate Orderly Departure: Tools, uniforms, etc., have to be turned in and various documents must be processed and signed. The employee’s cooperation is needed to do this; therefore, communication must not give the employee an additional motive for obstructing an orderly departure.

The Face-To-Face Termination

Knowing that this is a “good” termination does not make the face-to-face encounter less difficult. It is intense. It is a task few people want, much less perceive as a constructive learning and growth experience for the employee. A reasonably humane, sympathetic attempt to end the painful encounter as quickly as possible is tempting.

However difficult, termination can be a relatively productive experience if handled properly, with finesse, tact and directness. Some situations will make the attempt at being positive, forward looking, and constructive out of the question. But the attempt should be made.

The ideas listed below offer ways of making the difficult encounter a reasonably productive one:

  1. Indicate Intent – Be Direct: “Sally, the practice has made the decision to terminate your employment here (don’t say, ‘terminate you’). The decision has been reviewed, but we need to discuss a number of issues. I hope we can do so in a reasonably friendly manner. You have a right to be upset, etc., and I will understand.”
    • Don’t Apologize: Don’t say, “It’s hard for me to do this,”
    • “I really hate to have to tell you this,”
    • “We have tried to help you, but it just hasn’t worked,”
    • “You have left us no choice,”
    • “I’m sorry,” or
    • “The doctor is making me do this.”
  2. All of these phrases just make matters worse and make the practice look cheap and blameless. They add fuel to the emotions already operating and serve no constructive or situation-strategic purpose.
  3. Allow Ventilation and Catharsis: If the employee starts swearing, yelling, bad-mouthing, crying, etc., just sit there and don’t respond. He/she needs that emotional release for any constructive discussion to take place later on. Do not be tempted to put your arm around their shoulder, pat them on the back, etc. These innocent actions could be misconstrued as sexual harassment, even female to female.
  4. Explain Reasons Specifically: Don’t say things like “poor attitude” or “insubordination” unless you can cite the specific behaviors. Generalized statements leave too much room for interpretations and argument. You don’t want that now, so have the hard evidence or documentation on hand.
  5. Avoid Counseling: Trying to help him or her understand “where he/she went wrong” is productive if placed in the context of how it could be avoided elsewhere in a future position. Anything short of such a context not only won’t work, but it will probably add to the employee’s emotional upheaval, or even begging for another chance, saying they’ll change.
  6. Discuss Remedial Actions – Offer Direction: Tell him or her how to apply for unemployment compensation, vocational training for skill development – anything that gives the employee hope for the future. Indicate that although the relationship hasn’t worked out, you still feel a social/moral obligation to try to help the person adjust to the situation.

The above are guidelines intended to help you in this area. It is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice. You should consult an attorney on any specific legal problems that might come up with employee discharge.

If you are a practice owner and are in the middle of or have questions about a particular employment concern, please schedule a 1 hour complimentary call with one of our experts now!


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