Tips for Parting Ways with a Staff Member

Letting go of a team member can be a grueling decision. However, it may be your only choice if you’ve noticed that their work is not up to par, their behaviors negatively impact the rest of your team, or when economic changes adversely affect your business. Follow these tips to handle this difficult situation with diplomacy.

Decide who stays and who goes

During performance evaluations, it is often quite apparent who hasn’t been performing as expected. At other times, you may need to keep a close eye on the inner workings of your business to see which employees are no longer pulling their weight or have become quiet quitters. These are just a few of the reasons you may need to consider terminating an employee.

Once you’ve decided to let an employee go, the next step is implementing the process to ensure that the dismissal is carried out legally and with respect to everyone involved.

Provide written warnings beforehand

Guided by your company policy, follow the correct protocol to ensure the employee in question is not caught off-guard by your decision. It’s critical to make sure the employee has received the requisite number of warnings before you commence with terminating their position. Also, they should be given a chance to correct their actions after receiving those warnings.

An example could be an employee who has repeatedly missed deadlines or has been caught engaging in inappropriate behavior. Let’s say your company policy requires three written warnings before taking further disciplinary action. In a best-case scenario, their manager would meet with the employee to discuss the situation in detail at the time of these warnings and inform them of the outcome (job termination) if performance didn’t improve. Once the employee has received three such warnings, if there’s still no improvement in performance, firing the employee will be the next course of action. Because you have followed your company’s policy and procedures and informed the employee about the outcome if their performance doesn’t change, the employee should not be caught off-guard when you proceed with firing them.

Explain the situation face-to-face

The best way to fire an employee is with a face-to-face conversation rather than by phone or email. That way, you and the employee can part ways in a dignified manner that is respectful of the situation.

An example would be when an employer must make the difficult decision to lay off a number of workers due to budgetary constraints or an economic downturn. A face-to-face conversation will allow the employer to reassure the employee by sympathizing with them and understanding the impact of this decision. The employer can explain the reason behind the decision and the options that the employee might have, such as professional recommendations and references.

Face-to-face meetings also provide an opportunity to ask and answer questions, reducing the chances of misunderstandings. When managed well, such conversations can turn former employees into advocates. Though difficult, conducting this conversation face-to-face is the best way to let an employee go because it offers a chance to be considerate and respectful to the employee and provides support during and even after the transition process.

Review contractual obligations

Suppose the staff member in question breached the employment contract that he or she signed with your company and is now liable for damages as stipulated in the contract. Or perhaps the employee began working for a competitor in violation of the non-compete clause they signed. In these cases, it’s critical to make sure that the contract is legally enforceable to claim the damages that are due to you.

You must also consider the issue of severance pay. This will be guided by your company’s policy on job termination or any specific contractual obligations, in addition to being informed by state laws governing such payments.

Have a contingency plan

Suppose the employee you plan to terminate occupies an instrumental position in your company. In that case, it’s wise to start preparing for this vacancy sooner rather than later to ensure their replacement can pick up where the previous employee left off.

For example, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is an instrumental position that plays a significant role in strategy formation, technology decisions, and collaborations within the organization. If they are leaving your company, the organization must fill this instrumental role as soon as possible to ensure smooth operations continue. You might even consider an internal candidate who is ready to take on the role. It is a best practice to start preparations earlier rather than later to have a seamless transition and continuity of the company’s operations. Otherwise, the CIO’s departure could create a leadership vacuum where essential decisions are delayed or neglected entirely.

If you hire externally, you’ll have to conduct the necessary onboarding processes and expenses that come with hiring someone new. Be sure you are thorough in your interview and hiring process. You do not want to fail to fulfill an important role twice.

Letting go of a staff member isn’t something leaders look forward to doing. However, it is sometimes necessary to build your ideal team so that your business will thrive. Once you’ve made the decision to let someone go, make sure you follow all the necessary steps to ensure their departure goes smoothly and without incident.

Contributed to EO by Elena Stewart, a certified life coach specializing in the teachings of Brené Brown, Danielle LaPorte and Marie Forleo. Through one-on-one coaching sessions and career mentoring, Elena helps entrepreneurs and business leaders jumpstart their careers and reach their full potential.

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