Dismissing An Employee: How To Have That Conversation

manager dismissing an employee

Dismissing an employee can often be a tense and fragile time. After all, termination interviews are delicate and require a great deal of tact. But, who has to break the bad news? And, how do you do it in a way that is productive? In this article, you’ll learn what goes into an optimal termination interview (and how to prepare managers to host them).

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What Is An Employee Termination Meeting?

An employee termination meeting, typically hosted by an employee’s manager, is a concise meeting that states why an employee is being let go and some of the processes that need to be taken from there. Depending on the context, it may be necessary to have security services available in the case of an aggrieved employee.

How Long Should A Termination Meeting Last?

The average employee termination meeting should last no longer than 10-15 minutes. Of course, a manger should take the time to hear out an employee and answer any reasonable questions they may have. But, when it comes to dismissing an employee, this meeting should remain direct and to the point.

Should You Have A Dismissal Meeting?

Even if it feels unpleasant, dismissing an employee needs to have an official termination meeting. This is not only a matter of course but as a way to preserve your employer brand. After all, even employees who are underperforming are better off leaving the organization with a good view of how the company handled things.

This is important for internal purposes, too. Colleagues are close, and if one of them is dismissed in an insulting manner, word gets around quickly. The result: a poor working atmosphere, a lack of motivation, and a drop in performance or productivity.

When you host an effective termination interview, one that shows appreciation as well as empathy, you minimize frustration among your departing employee and counteract negative consequences.

What Is The Employee Dismissal Process?

During the termination interview, there are some steps you may need to consider. These are part and parcel of the overall process when it comes to dismissing an employee. Here are some key things to consider:

  • Offer a comprehensive reason for dismissal.

  • Ensure that the employee knows the decision has been made and is final.

  • Give the employee an opportunity to speak and ask any questions.

  • Run through all of the relevant benefits and remaining pieces (vacation pay, etc.)

  • Collect any relevant technology or other materials that an employee needs to give back.

Keep in mind: If an employee was working on a critical or confidential project, you will want to take extra steps to ensure that all of this information is kept private.

Who Should Be Involved In Dismissing An Employee?

The first choice should always be the manager. After all, the manager knows the employee’s private situation and strengths and weaknesses best (e.g. from past feedback discussions). This gives him the opportunity to answer questions from the employee and empathize with them in a meaningful way.

However, this doesn’t mean that the manager should always be the one dismissing an employee. A representative from HRs should always be there for three key reasons:

  • HR managers are more versed in the legal situation. If questions arise, they can answer them with relative ease.

  • They can be there to mediate, and if an employee reacts emotionally they can calm the waters.

  • Serving as a witness in extreme situations, should a lawsuit arise from dismissing an employee.

So, as you can see, there is a role both for the manager and HR to play here. They are both essential to the situation, for varying reasons, so they should be there whenever dismissing an employee comes about.

Should HR Offer Dismissal Training For Managers?

An employee termination interview is not simply a box to check. Because nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, managers, more often than not, would rather not have this conversation. This is, of course, entirely understandable, but a task like dismissing an employee should not simply be delegated completely to HR.

As we mentioned before, both parties have a role to play. Therefore, managers need the training to be able to host this kind of interview in a productive fashion, That way, they don’t approach exit interviews with a system, preparation, and the necessary appreciation and empathy for such an emotionally charged sit down.

So, how can HR provide support?HR managers have a responsibility to ensure that, as part of professional separation management, to create an awareness of respectful termination discussions.

One expert, Manuela Richter, recommends making termination interviews a regular part of management development. They should generally be trained in "delivering bad news," e.g. when vacation requests are rejected or criticisms during a feedback meeting, and not just once shortly before a wave of terminations.

How Should You Prepare For Dismissing An Employee?

In termination interviews, what managers say, and how they say it, is crucial. This requires thorough preparation. Ultimately, this will help the manager and HR to react confidently in the event of unexpected employee reactions upon dismissal.

Regardless of whether your reasons for termination are operational, behavioral, or personal: You must be able to argue and prove to the employee why you are terminating him or her. Therefore, list the reasons and check whether the termination is also legal. Make sure you have a lawyer or your legal department do this, too.

Find a suitable time

Monday or Tuesday is suitable for a termination meeting, ideally in the morning. This gives the employee time to let the conversation sink in, ask any unanswered questions in a timely manner and, if necessary, obtain external legal feedback. This would be almost impossible on a Friday afternoon.

Find a suitable room

The usual “dismissal room” or open-concept office should not and must not be the place – if only for reasons of discretion. Instead, choose a meeting room that is not glassed in and is brightly lit. Outsiders should not be able to see or hear the conversation. Alternatively, the manager’s office is a good choice, if available.

Prepare documents

At the meeting, all important documents should be available in written form and given to the employee. This includes, for example, the letter of resignation, the reference and any financial agreements, e.g. severance pay.

Carefully consider what you want to say

“We’re dealing with people here, so we need individual approaches,” says termination coach, Hermann Refisch.

While there is no singular formula that works well for everyone, managers can and should think about what they want to say in advance. Concrete formulations help to keep the focus during the conversation. Cliches like “cheer up” and “it’ll work out” should always be avoided.

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8 Top Tips for Dismissing an Employee with Care

Being dismissed can be a great psychological burden for an employee, so the way you deliver your message and handle the meeting is paramount.

So, make sure that the discussion is far and empathetic. In concrete terms, discuss why they are being dismissed, while remaining factual and objective, and always remain polite and appreciative of their time there.

Then, keep these eight additional points in mind:

1. Be Honest!

You should also avoid misleading phrases such as “feedback meeting” or “performance review.” Otherwise, you’ll fuel false expectations. Create a potential termination template or termination checklist as a guideline to follow during the discussion.

This would include steps such as:

  • Brief greeting

  • Give notice

  • State and explain reasons

  • Wait for the employee’s reaction and respond in kind

  • Clarify next steps

  • Arrange follow-up discussion

2. Get To The Point

When dismissing an employee, don’t beat around the bush. After all, a termination interview should last no longer than 15 minutes. A long introduction, even with the best intentions, will only unnecessarily put the employee on edge.

This also applies to the conversation in general, take this example as a guide:

  • Don’t say: “It looks like your position is being eliminated!”

  • Say: “I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go! The termination is effective as of [date].”

3. Clear Reasoning For Termination

State the reason an employee is being dismissed within the first five sentences, full stop. Then, list specific points. Here are some of the main reasons for termination that could be relevant:

  • A drop in performance and quality

  • Negative attitude

  • Conflict within the team

  • Forced downsizing within the company

  • Closure of individual departments

For the last point, put concrete figures on the table as to why it is affecting them in particular, and draw comparisons with other employees. In any case, the termination must be comprehensible for the employee.

4. Avoid Any Disturbances

While it might seem obvious, it’s still essential. Not only should it be private, not visible to other employees, but you should also seek to avoid cell phones, computer notifications, or knocking colleagues coming around. The atmosphere needs to be somewhat peaceful while dismissing an employee.

5. Prepare For Negative Reactions

There are three basic reactions that managers should prepare for:

  • The controlled type

  • The emotional type

  • The negotiator

The controlled type appears composed and doesn’t say much. The emotional type, on the other hand, cries or gets angry. The negotiator will try to negotiate compromises with you or push the termination back.

Managers should not respond to this, but stand firm. If the reaction is very emotional, empathize with them, but don’t let that affect your decision or have you stray off course.

6. Control the Conversation

Managers need to remain the leaders of the conversation while ensuring that it proceeds accordingly. To avoid being surprised by the employee’s reaction, preparation is also important here. What to do if the employee gets angry? What if they start crying? Or, what if they get physical? It’s up to the manager to calm the situation and get it back under control.

This is how managers should act during the termination interview:

  • Polite, but not too cordial: An emotional distance should be maintained throughout the conversation.

  • Calm and firm: Managers should not be rattled by the employee’s emotions.

  • Clear in communication, professional in behavior: No matter how the employee reacts to the termination, your manager should not get into arguments.

7. Focus On Next Steps

Once you’ve finished dismissing an employee, what happens next? At this point, it is standard practice to release dismissed colleagues with immediate effect. It is considered a sign of fairness.

The time off gives them the opportunity to come to terms with the dismissal and consider their future. Communication to the team, handover, and pro-rated vacation entitlement must also be clarified. This should either be paid out or granted.

As an HR manager, what can you do? Offer your employee a follow-up conversation. Sometimes it helps to put thoughts into words and discuss them. As a link between management and employee, you should approach the employee after the exit interview and clarify any unresolved issues or try to reduce his or her concerns.

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8. Talk To Remaining Employees

Word of terminations spreads quickly – and that makes people feel insecure.

To prevent it from having a negative impact on the mood and performance of other colleagues, talk to the team. Make it clear what impact the termination will have on the team, projects, goals, and the organization.

In most cases, this calms the situation, gives employees a new boost of motivation, and binds them more strongly to the company.

Dismissing An Employee: It’s All About Preparation

Dismissing an employee is best done with fairness and clarity. This includes an exit interview that acknowledges the employee’s work. Prepare it with your manager and clearly establish roles. Guide the manager and provide input on how the conversation should proceed.

About Marina Buller

About Marina Buller

Marina is Content Marketing Manager at Personio and has dedicated herself entirely to HR and recruiting topics. After completing her master's degree in Lund, Sweden, she gained HR insights while working at XING. She now incorporates this experience into her texts - always following Personio's motto of "simplifying HR work".

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