Here’s a quick primer culled from executives and outplacement experts on how to fire people without bruising their egos.
- Give warning. All performance-based firings should begin with a warning or probationary period. If you let employees know they’re on the edge, they just might turn things around. If they’ve put in years of service, it’s the least they deserve.
- Document, document, document. Once you’ve told an employee she/he’s on probation, document every task and interaction. The better records you keep, the easier it will be to justify your actions should you find yourself defending them in legal proceedings.
- Time it right. Fire early in the day and early in the week. The worse time to terminate an employee is the day before a weekend or holiday.
- Prepare the paperwork. Don’t wait until after you fire an employee to deliver termination paperwork. Deliver pay, including any benefits and unused vacation, on the spot. This is not only good policy, frequently it’s the law.
- Don’t go it alone. Have someone else with you in the room. It adds a sense of seriousness and finality to the termination conversation. It also provides a witness on your side should you end up in court.
- Ensure privacy. Make it clear to the employee that only you and the other person (your witness) will take part in the termination meeting. Reassure the employee that nobody else will be in on what’s happening. Neglecting this will make her/him self-conscious.
- Be brief. Say what you have to say, say it clearly and don’t say any more. Prolonging the meeting allows the employee to believe she/he is involved in a negotiation—there may be a way out. When she/ he realizes there isn’t, she/he will feel betrayed.
- Watch your tone. Choose your words carefully and make sure you convey a tone of cordiality and sympathy. Be compassionate but firm, honest but guarded. Never say, “I know what you’re going through,” even if you do.
- Seek feedback. Although it’s important to keep the meeting short, encourage the employee to voice her/his feelings after you’ve delivered the news. If she/he doesn’t answer
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immediately, count to 20 before moving on. The last thing you want is a reputation for being heartless. However, if recriminations result, take charge and cut her/him off; remember that you’re declaring the employee fired, not engaging in a dialogue.
- Give a good send-off. Always offer words of encouragement and confidence in the employee’s future career. Stand and extend your hand to indicate the meeting has ended. Thank the employee for her/his service and don’t be surprised or hurt if the employee declines to thank you for firing her/him.