The dehumanization of the employee (and employer) happens long before the final decision to fire. Start talking.
"I don’t think this is working. I think I’m going to need to let them go soon."
"They were wrong, of course. If it wasn’t their fault, we wouldn’t need to let them go.”
“They should have known. We have highlighted concerns with their work.”
“They should have known what we meant. I’m sure they were already interviewing elsewhere and planning something. If we don’t do it now, we don’t know what they could do.”
How many times have you thought this as a manager? How many times have you faced this as an employee? Isn't there a better way?
The uncomfortable reality of firing someone.
The dehumanisation of the employee (and employer) happens long before the final decision. Otherwise, how can you justify firing someone for your own failures as an organisation or manager? We make mistakes, but those mistakes are never our fault.
The uncomfortable reality is they did not know. They were not looking out and were doing everything that they could to get things back on track. Their task becomes impossible as the people in the organisation prepare to fire them.
In the time before the firing takes place, discussions often shift to concerns about damage control. “What if they try to damage the company after we notify them?” So, we create increasingly complex and abstracted systems and employment contracts to protect our companies. We talk about what we can learn from these situations, so we “hire better” next time.
Every bad hire who does attempt to damage the company becomes an excuse to punish all existing and future hires. Over time, even existing employees are seen as universally disposable.
There is a better way. We can create employment environments where movement is assumed, expected and supported. It’s simple, saves money and ensures better productivity and retention across the organisation.
Talk, openly and honestly, from day one. And care.
Caring about how people are affected by being fired and considering how to handle that exit such that they don’t take it personally — is our job as bosses, employers and, most importantly, fellow humans. Employees spend 1/3 of their lives with your company, their lives and families literally depend on you.
Talking will help ensure that most of the time, most people, are happy with the exit and supportive of the business. There need to be clearly explained, followed and mirrored behaviour expectations. And there needs to be an ongoing dialogue about what’s working, not working and improving — for them, the business and even you as their manager.
People who understand that the business is losing money for the last 6 months, react better and have prepared for the discussion about how the company can’t afford them any more.
When things start not working (and not improving), managers often need to be the one to start the “hey, this doesn’t seem to be working” conversation. Followed by “how about we find something new for you? What interests you?”. I encourage employees to trigger such discussions as well. If things aren’t working, you have everything to gain by turning the process into a positive exit.
You are responsible for helping them find their next role.
If employers and managers take an active role in helping that person find the next role, they don’t take it personally. The part that most managers miss (and I missed for many years) is that this conversation starts even before they join and doesn’t stop until they are in their next role.
The best test as to whether you have handled the exit right is when those people you have “exited” come back to ask further advice and give updates.
Want your employees to be positive when they leave? Want to leave your company in a positive way? Talk regularly, talk about how the business is doing and how you are doing. Care about each other as people. Resist the urge to dehumanise.
As a manager, your responsibility is to talk about this from the first time you meet someone you may hire through to when it stops working and through to their last day.
As an employee, your responsibility is to trigger those same discussions. Sometimes you may need to suggest what is clearly going to happen before the dehumanisation starts.
What's the worst that could happen?