It is never easy to let someone go, be let go or watch others be let go. I should know: I have had the honor and privilege of experiencing all three.
Employee termination is particularly challenging for entrepreneurs and leaders of small companies that may lack established HR best practices, as well as the HR staff to carry them out.
In the not-so-distant past, people received a notice or “pink slip” with their paycheck. While very efficient and easy for the employer, this strategy was not exactly humane, measured by today’s standards. So, new dos and don’ts of how to effectively terminate an employee have arisen in their place, and received plenty of press.
The collective belief, of course, is that there is nothing graceful or elegant about the process of letting people go in small entrepreneurial organizations. It just causes stress for the entire team; everyone is impacted: For the leader(s) involved in delivering the news, there is angst and anxiety leading up to the “event,” as some organizations commonly call it.
That angst reverberates around the company: Just as the bearer of the bad news is done, everyone else is just learning of the “event” and dealing with the raw emotions, as they process what just happened. Of course, for the person being let go, the world has just been turned upside down.
My own termination
I was let go from my role at a small branding agency at 6 p.m. on the Monday after the holiday break. Not a happy start to the New Year. I knew it was coming, that I wasn't a good fit. But it was still hard hearing, “This isn’t working out, and today is your last day.” I remember that immediate feeling of rejection and the awkwardness colleagues expressed toward me when they found out only after I had packed up my belongings and left the building.
That's why I make it a habit to extend my support to close associates who have been let go, an act of kindness that's met with great appreciation but apparently is not the norm. In fact, it's shocking to find out infrequently such acts occur. People will say, “You are the only one I heard from,” or “I feel like people are avoiding me.” I'd like to believe that the reason is that people just don't know what to do or say.
But I do: Given my personal experience and my background as an executive coach, I offer this counsel to leaders when dealing with terminations:
1. Discourage hallway chatter.
Depending on its scale, a layoff can be quite unsettling. As word spreads, there is a ripple effect. People get nervous, and inevitably there is hallway chatter. “Did you hear . . .” “Can you believe it?” “Are there any more?” “Who’s next?” Left unchecked, the gossip can become all consuming.
As team leader, when you inform the team of the termination(s) ask them, out of respect for those involved, to not speak of it within the office. Instead focus people’s nervous energy on how they can offer assistance to those let go.
2. Ask your team to extend a helping hand.
The experience of losing a job is mortifying. You feel vulnerable and overwhelmed and your ego is bruised. So, for those still employed, the next best step is to reach out and provide the person let go names of recruiters, recommendations on LinkedIn, networking connections, job leads and any other support they need to look for a new job.
Keep the focus on helping, not on "stoking the fire of injustice" about what has happened. I myself found this stance incredibly thoughtful and humane. People appreciate gestures of kindness.
In sum, there is nothing dignified about getting the proverbial “pink slip.” Seldom is it done with a deft touch. Bringing some decency to the process, and respect for the people involved, is an incredibly generous way to help ease its painful affects.
Dignity and decency offered to those involved creates the positive energy they need to reset their career -- and to those still employed, the energy to carry on.