If you’ve ever had to terminate someone, you know what an emotional journey it can be, not only for the employee but for you and everyone else in the organization…and it never gets easier. You’ve probably experienced a cycle similar to this… “It’s been a sleepless night. Your mind is racing, wondering if you’re making the right decision. You keep contemplating if you’ve done all that you can do. You’ve coached and inspired, and have given your all to motivate. You can’t help but feel an array of emotions from sadness to apprehension, from disappointment to relief. Yet after deep soul searching and serious reflection, you’ve come to that fateful decision that can have lasting effects on numerous individuals…it’s time to terminate an employee.” Whether it’s your first, or you’ve had the displeasure on numerous occasions, the emotional cycle is the same. Here are four ideas for surviving the emotional roller coaster.
Dignity has no substitute
There is no greater aspiration than maintaining the worth of a human soul, both that of yours and others. Regardless of the reason(s), termination should always be conducted in a respectful manner, remembering that dignity has no substitute. It will no doubt be a shocking and an emotional blow for the employee, but the decision has been made. The meeting should be quick and to the point, dispensing with pleasantries so as not to provide false hope. Be empathetic, but direct.
As you escort the newly terminated employee to retrieve their personal belongings, take care not to add to their personal embarrassment. Be quiet and discreet as you escort them to their office, and ultimately from the premises. There is a great saying, “Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity.” You will do more harm than good to the employee, yourself, and others in the organization if you fail to maintain dignity.
Be empathetic to the team
Immediately after termination, leaders should meet with the effected team(s) and respectfully deliver the news. When speaking of the terminated employee, always do so with a respectful tone, understanding that team members can form emotional bonds with their teammates. The news of termination will cause an array of emotions, as each team member will react in their own personal manner. Explain the circumstances, without breaching confidentiality, and allow each member to express their concerns. Remember that humility will be your greatest ally. Though you may feel you’ve made the right decision, not everyone will agree. Allow them that freedom, understanding that not everyone is privy to the facts which led you to the decision. Becoming defensive or judgmental to your team members’ reactions will only serve to drive wedges, and can greatly affect emotional healing, camaraderie, and ultimately the team dynamic. Be open to answering questions and demonstrate your support for the team, by being empathetic to their needs, while also providing a clear picture of the future, and guidelines for the next steps. The team dynamic is the binding force that drives or usurps success in any organization. Treat it with care.
Maintain an open door and a listening ear
The news of a termination will have ripple effects throughout the entire organization. Feelings of uneasiness, worry, hurt, anger, and even happiness will permeate throughout teams and individuals. Rumors may circulate and employees will no doubt discuss the termination for some time after it has occurred. Ensure that employees understand that your door is always open if they wish to discuss concerns. Sometimes a listening ear is all that someone needs to successfully navigate the path to healing.
I recently had the misfortune of terminating an employee. As I delivered the news to the team, I was met with shock, silence, and even tears. Afterward, an employee asked to meet with me personally. She was overcome with emotion as she shed tears for her friend whom she would no longer see on a daily basis. I said very little, only listening as she expressed her thoughts. As we came to the close of the meeting, she had a deeper understanding and a greater composure concerning the situation. I was awe-inspired. Again, I had said very little, yet this employee seemed to have greater clarity. As I reflected on that experience, I realized that all I did was listen, and that provided a far greater emotional support structure than my words could have ever provided. That experience taught me the wisdom of always maintaining an open door and a listening ear.
Don’t forget your emotional needs
Though you carefully reviewed the facts and weighed the consequences of your decision, you will feel strong emotions as you contemplate the lasting effects of terminating an employee. Regardless of it being the right decision, thoughts of them and their families will cross your mind and you may even wonder if you’re doing the right thing. These emotions are perfectly normal and signify emotional intelligence. As business management expert and author Tom Peters wrote, “The day firing becomes easy is the day to fire yourself.” Rather than bury your emotions, allow yourself to feel and express them, taking heed not to express doubts about your decision to your team. Remember, you know you’ve made the right decision.
Termination is never easy, but it is a task delegated to leaders and sometimes has to be exercised for the betterment of the organization and the employee. Maintain dignity, be empathetic, be willing to listen, and take care of yourself.