How To Fire Team Members

It turns out that empathy is important when we're letting people go
It turns out that empathy is important when we’re letting people go
Image Credit: new3dom3000

When you signed up to be a manager, did anyone tell you about the rough parts of the job? There are a lot of different parts of being a manager that are tough to do, but letting members of your team go is probably just about the hardest thing to do. There are a lot of different reasons why you may find yourself forced into this position, but no matter how you got there, you have a job to do. Do you know how to fire team members?

The Challenge Of Firing An Employee

It was not all that long ago that a company made the headlines by laying off 9% of its workforce over Zoom. It wasn’t really the fact that the company fired people that caught the public’s attention, though, it was how they chose to part ways with their employees. This termination is a stark reminder for all managers that we will inevitably be faced with hard calls. Unfortunately, parting ways with employees is part of our job and there’s no easy way to do it. However, we can, and should, approach these difficult conversations with empathy by taking the time to put ourselves in our employees’ shoes.

How To Fire A Team Member

As managers we need to keep in mind that the team member’s emotions need to come first. In surveys, losing your job regularly ranks among the top five stressors anyone can experience. This goes along with death, illness, moving, and divorce. For many people, losing a job can trigger economic uncertainty in addition to grief and loss of their confidence. Given these things, it’s all the more important that when you are letting someone go that you focus on the person receiving the news, not on your own emotions. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s hard to be the manager making the call and sharing the news. It’ll be tempting to let them know things like how much this has kept you up at night. However, I can promise you, it will be significantly harder for them and so it’s your responsibility to curb your own emotions. While you are letting them go, make sure that you focus on the conversation supporting them and giving them the space they need to take in the information.

When you are firing someone, you won’t be able to avoid the “why” question. There can be a number of different reasons that you are letting someone go: efficiency, performance, and productivity as well as a market downturn can be reasons for the layoff. Managers need to understand that people can absorb tough news and calls, but that it’s best to do it with clarity on your driving force behind the decision. You have to be specific about what’s driving the decision: cash flow, market impact, change of business model, or underperformance. It’s important to understand that it can’t be all four. Any one of those reasons will be hard for employees to stomach, but they can accept them because they are fair. If you’re not clear about the “why”, you’ll end up adding more confusion and frustration which can be a tough combination that can drive even more attrition within the ranks.

While you are letting someone go, being human can go a long way. It is incredibly hard to make parting ways feel like it is personal. Managers need to realize that how someone leaves a company has a substantial influence on if they would recommend your company to a friend. We need to understand that emailing employees from a generic email alias versus having a human being on the other side of the termination conversation is never a good call. One way to handle a layoff is to make sure that every single employee impacted gets a follow up note from their manager. This can be followed by a group question sessions for people to solicit help and advice for navigating next steps. Regardless of size and scope of a layoff, the more human you can be in your process, the better it will turn out to be for everyone involved.

What All Of This Means For You

People management and leadership often involves us making tough calls. It’s incredibly important we don’t skip over the most important aspect of these hard conversations: being human. By focusing on the people who are being impacted, providing clear rationale for your approach, and getting rid of generic emails in exchange for a personal connection, you’re building trust that future, and hopefully former, team members will be grateful for.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How much time do you think that a manger should allocate for firing a team member?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you want your team to be productive, you need to make sure that you have a work environment that will allow them to be successful. Another way of saying the same thing is that you need to make sure that your work environment is not toxic. As managers, this is something that we need to be aware of and manage. We need to understand what can make a work environment toxic and what we can do to prevent it.