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Employee Termination: The Human Side

Q: What are some of the more significant human considerations I need to be concerned about when conducting a termination?

“Try and show as much respect for the individual on the way out as you did on the way in…”
There is a wealth of experience and advice one can receive when planning either a group downsizing or conducting an individual termination. There are however, certain basic principles that should help guide the Human Resources Professional. I would like to highlight some of these potentially emotional considerations, and provide some insights formed from personal experiences that the reader might find helpful.

HUMAN CONSIDERATIONS: Assuming that the financial and legal implications surrounding the dismissal have been taken care of, and that the business rationale has been decided, our experience indicates that the highest risk of damage caused during a termination, is through lack of understanding of the human dimension. Here are some principles to keep in mind:

1. Don’t underestimate the event’s emotional impact on the individual: If you haven’t experienced the trauma associated with involuntary job loss yourself then its impact can be difficult to understand. In our business, one of the worst things we can hear from the Manager who is about to conduct a dismissal is “not to worry, I’ve done this many times before!” That may be true, but for the individual receiving the news it will be anything but routine! Nicholas Gage, a reporter for the New York Times who was obsessed with bringing to justice a war criminal, was asked to explain “Why was he so interested in an incident which had taken place, at some point in time, so long ago and so far away?” He responded with the explanation that for the individual who suffered through this situation it was a life changing moment, one that took place at a particular place and particular time in their life, a point in time that they would never forget. The same human reaction often takes place when individuals are asked to leave their employment. They will often remember the smallest detail associated with how they were handled and what their emotions were.

2. Treat the individual the way you would want a relative or good friend to be treated: Realizing that there are often company procedures, which need to be followed on things related to security and proper protocol for exiting the workplace, it is important that these be explained in a way that acknowledges the self respect of the individual. The concept of trust is often close to the surface during a termination, and individuals who don’t feel trusted invariably associate an already difficult situation as being one that has become personal! Allowing the affected employee to reflect on what is important for them to do next, is a valuable human consideration which allows the employee to gain some form of self control. After the news has been delivered, the focus should shift to that information which is now most important for the affected individual. One of the concerns we often hear from employees who have been let go is “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye”. While this may be true, explaining to the individual that there is a better time and place to say their goodbyes, as opposed to denying them access, or escorting them from the premises, is the preferred approach. Priorities have shifted dramatically for the terminated employee and they may not be in a position to think clearly and understand some typical reactions they are experiencing. Strongly consider providing counseling immediately following the termination interview. This often helps diffuse many emotions and can act as a bridge to what needs to happen next.

3. Consider that you may have to deal with this employee at another time in your career: The old adage ‘Be careful how you treat people on the way up, because you may meet them again on the way down’ has a lot of applicability in the context of a termination interview. HR professionals involved in the termination process need to be in a position that they can feel good about themselves even under the most negative or stressful situation. A colleague of mine who works for a large High Tech firm believes strongly that his company wants to maintain the terminated employee’s respect to such a degree that should the company want to recruit and hire again in the future, the majority of those employees released would want to consider re-joining the firm. Another senior manager, when explaining his need to meet with the released employees one at a time, once said “We hired them in a personal interview, the least we can do is let them go with a personal meeting”.

In conclusion, there are various checklists on what to do, and not do, and many legal considerations to be reviewed, but when you boil it all down, treat employees professionally and with respect, and you will go a long way to minimizing possible negative consequences.

Rob Notman is President of KWA Partners in Ottawa.

Creating Gold Medal Moments

Q: How can I make sure I am getting the most out of an employee recognition program?

It was August 2004, and you had just won the Olympic decathlon —congratulations, by the way. You approached the podium to receive your gold medal. Your head was a storm of memories of the endless hours of training, the immense sacrifices made by yourself and your loved ones. You recalled some early failures and remember that you nearly gave up many times, but something inside urged you to continue well past what you thought you could achieve. You stepped up onto the podium. The Canadian flag rose and the national anthem, which you have heard a million times but never as gloriously as this time, resounded through the stadium. The dignitary slowly came near you, leaned close and whispered, “Your medal will being sent to you in the mail. Here’s a certificate, though.” You looked down to see your first name was misspelled.

Sorry to say, that’s how many organizations treat their best employees.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Corporate recognition awards can create a remarkable difference in employee attitudes toward their employers. Service, performance, safety and sales awards can truly be cherished as enduring symbols of achievement—earned in appreciation of dedicated years of service or for outstanding contributions to an organization’s success. But the best organizations have learned that to bond an employee to their organization, and to inspire employees and their coworkers to even greater achievement, they must make the presentation of a recognition award an event that is memorable—with almost as much ceremony and emotion as an Olympic-medal presentation.

It’s All In The Presentation
Presenting a formal award doesn’t have to be a burden; it can be an opportunity—to bond an employee to you and your team and to reinforce your goals and vision. All it takes is a little preparation, sincerity and specificity.

Here are a few tips for presenting formal service, performance, sales or safety awards:

1. Choose the right person to make the presentation.

Too often, a CEO fumbles when he tries to pronounce a recipient’s name or doesn’t know anything about the person’s specific accomplishments. To ensure sincerity and meaning, the presenter of an award should be the highest-ranking manager who personally knows the employee and his or her accomplishments. The person must also be able to evoke emotion—whether with laughter or tears—through anecdotes or examples.

2. Ensure your managers are trained in making great presentations.

Delivering out recognition in an effective manner does not come naturally to most managers—even those on the most-lofty rungs of your corporate ladder. Managers must be able to talk about specific contributions that have affected the company. They must make only positive, upbeat comments, focusing on the very best things that happen in your workplace and how the recipient fits into the good things that are happening. They should also be trained not to promise continuing employment, not to tell off-color jokes, and not to make discriminatory remarks.

3. If your award program includes corporate symbolism, ensure that your managers can explain the importance of the symbol.
When your company logo is crafted into a gold emblem, the manager should explain the significance and value of the emblem—and how this illustrates the way the company values each of its employees.
4. Invite colleagues to attend the presentation, and ask two or three coworkers to comment on the recipient.
Inviting others to participate helps coworkers better appreciate the performance being honored, helps them more clearly understand company goals, and helps them emulate successful behavior.
5. Allow the recipient to make a few comments.
This gives the employee a chance to thank others who have helped along the way, to thank those who participated in the recognition experience, and to provide direction to others in attendance that wish to achieve similar results.
6. Close by offering a sincere thank-you.
Follow these six simple steps, and your employees will turn in more and more gold medal performances.

John McVeigh is the President of O.C. Tanner Canada, the country’s leading recognition provider.


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