A friend told me a horror story of recent layoffs within her company.  The lead manager called everyone in for a big dinner to thank them for their work.  After praising their efforts, he then let them know that he had fired 3 of their co-workers an hour before.  They were in shock.  He followed up his announcement by noting that this was very hard for him (tears were involved!) but he had to do it for the health of the company.

Unfortunately, the way this manager let these employees go is an all-too-common approach in modern business.  Granted, having to fire employees is always challenging – to both the worker and the manager.  But is this the only way?  Thankfully, no.  There are better ways to handle these situations.  None of them are pain-free but there are things that you can do that will lessen the pain and might even lead to far fewer terminations.  Here are 3 key tools:

  • Be Early – If hard times are coming , get ahead of the discussion and start preparing as early as possible.  Consider multiple scenarios and anticipate how each will impact your employees.  Firing an employee can save you money but there are a number of intangibles that will be lost in their absence.  Consider the long-term impact of layoffs.  Consider other ways to cut costs rather than terminations.  Even consider going to employees whose jobs are at risk and asking for their advice on what to do.  Desperation is the mother of invention.
  • Be Honest – Publicly identify your process for employee termination at the time of hiring.  No one stays employed at a company forever.  We all leave our jobs eventually -whether through quitting or being terminated – so state that fact up front and take ownership of it.  Have a written process in place for how a layoff happens.  This reassures everyone that there won’t be any surprises.  Employees understand if a change in the market makes their job obsolete, or their attitude got them fired.  They won’t like it but they can understand it.  What will destroy your company is having a mysterious termination process that strikes them from on high without warning.  When that exists, employees start spending all their time posting their resume on job sites instead of doing their job.
  • Be Brave – Being the leader of a company means that you have to be emotionally strong for your employees.  Even if the termination is justified, it still takes time to deal with it.  You need to walk alongside your employees as they face this change in their lives.  Not only will they be losing income but also friendships, security, and the respect that comes from working with their colleagues.  Being there for your employees (from start to finish) will help avoid the blowback from both fired employees and those who remain behind.  The temptation is to shy away and not face this head on (i.e. hand it over to HR).  But this is your job.  Step forward and do what is right.

Bottom line – there is no easy way to fire employees.  In fact, choosing the easy path (i.e. the short cut) always results in long-term problems.  But you can ease the pain and even create a more secure company by being honest, being early, and most important, being brave.