Terrie's Job Tips -- Hard Messages - Letting Employees Go

This week's column is intended for HR and business managers who are confronted with having to execute orders from head office to pare down the workforce as a means of reducing cost. Because the reductions will be general in nature, the most common reaction of the local management is to deal with the problem in a general way as well – usually by sending emails or having mass meetings. However, in my experience, mass communications of a negative nature almost never work, so I decided to consult with a professional in the HR and Training field, Mr. Andrew Silberman of AMT Group.

Andrew gave me the following series of tips on how to make firings and other hard messages more palatable, both to those staying and those leaving:

· Keep it legal: be familiar with your company's rules of employment and relevant labor law.
· LISTEN. Everyone knows this is key, but how good are you at empathizing? Are you sure you're giving the right level of feedback?
· Do NOT fire on a Friday! Early in the week gives people time to sort out issues, have support from colleagues, and to not fall into despair over the weekend.
· Similarly, earlier in the month is better, and after holidays, not before.
· Keep it private. As an example of what not to do, one company actually held an off-site seminar and gave everyone an envelope: some with blue notes (keeping their jobs) and some with yellow (losing their jobs). They then held a "farewell dinner" afterwards, at the same location, for those leaving. (TL: I agree with Andrew that this was a tasteless, tactless, morale killer.)
· Except in extreme cases, there's no reason to have security accompany the person off the premises. Avoid humiliating the person.
· Keep the meeting brief, and to the point, but allow your soon-to-be-former staff to vent, without you becoming defensive.

· Losing a job is shocking news for most people, unless you've done the performance monitoring right all along. Some people will immediately go into denial and not even realize they're being terminated. You need to make it very clear that the decision has been made and is final.
· Be open from the start of the conversation about your own feelings. If true, something like, "This is going to be a difficult conversation...it is tough for me."
· Avoid making any promises or phrases like, "I'm sure everything will work out all right."
· Be prepared with what assistance your company is offering--counseling, interview coaching, or other outplacement help.
· Remember, the person you fire will have an impact beyond him/herself. They can cause others to leave, or lower morale of those who remain, or they can become still positive spokespeople for your firm.
· How they perceive you as a manager is how they will perceive your company.

Thanks, Andrew. Now, I have a couple more to add to this:
· Tokyo is a small town. If you don't release your employee in a fair and transparent way, they could very well wind up getting their next job at your client's company and will come back to "haunt" you.
· Unless there was something wrong with the person or their performance, I find that you can soften the redundancy by offering to write a letter of recommendation, to help the person in their future job search.
· Before a person has left, I only involve the managers and keep things confidential. However, after they have left, I make sure that the line manager sits down with their team to explain why the dismissal occurred and what was done to first try to remedy the causes for the eventual dismissal.
· It is cheaper than a lawsuit for unfair dismissal to give the retiring employee the full severance pay that is traditional for the company.