Talking Points - Layoff Etiquette 101

If you run a business or are a manager with people reporting to you, or some variation of the two, you know it's fairly difficult to identify new talent to join your team. That process is time-consuming and can often be riddled with opportunity for mistakes - much in the way a war zone can be riddled with land mines. The reality that confronts virtually all hiring managers is that they often make instinctual decisions when making hiring decisions. Sometimes, their instincts can fail them.

In the event that your instincts fail you as a hiring manager and you need to let go of one or more of your staff, there are best practices that you ought to follow in order that you protect the integrity of the company while simultaneously do as much as possible to minimize the sour taste that could be left in the mouths of all those involved in what is often a harder process than actually finding the talent in the first place.

Although this is certainly not an extensive list of do's/don't for firing someone, below are simple best practices you ought to live by:

  1. Be humble and accept responsibility for what's about to transpire. It's important to develop a little bit of humility because some of the onus of this layoff does rest on the employer/manager. Did you do enough to train the employee? Were you attentive to the initial warning signs that demonstrated the candidate's potential inability to fit in with your culture? Did you develop a strong enough rapport with your team member that they can confide in you more personal information that may be contributing to their lack of production? Ultimately, some of this layoff does rest on you as a manager. Much, though, is likely attributed to the ineffectiveness of said candidate to conform with the team and produce at the same pace you expect. In short, however, learn from this and better your management style as a result.
  2. Do not arbitrarily fire someone - this should come as no surprise to the employee in question. Often times, if the point above has been exhausted, it has only been exhausted by virtue of your regular meetings with the candidate and an overall bigger review process being put in place. Give these candidates an indication that their job performance has not been meeting corporate standards - and give them an opportunity to better themselves professionally. Lend them an open ear if need be and do everything possible to give them a chance to improve upon their follies.
  3. Take legal measures to protect yourself regardless how tacky it may appear. Be sure to include clauses in the employment contracts that give ownership of company data, particularly that data which is pertinent to the employee in question. Also, you must always record your "warning conversations" so that you have raw facts to present in the event of a firing taking place.
  4. Be as humane as possible - you're literally about to turn this individual's world upside down by laying them off. You need to demonstrate extraordinary empathy - in fact, to the extent that you can you should help them find new jobs. If it's at all possible and you're still on reasonably good terms with one another, then keep in touch with this candidate. It's possible - however uncommon it may be - that this candidate may not be a solid fit today, but could be an outstanding fit tomorrow. Don't burn your bridges!
  5. Empathy is good - but do NOT sugarcoat or mislead. Compassion, as stated above, is a wonderful thing to incorporate. However, you're doing this candidate a disservice by not identifying key reasons for the layoff. If you've accomplished step two successfully, you've already been collecting key performance metrics that lend to your rationale for their firing. Stick to the raw facts, and don't create a phony "cover-story" that is dismissive of their performance. Of course, as you showcase the facts surrounding the candidate's firing, you must treat this employee with dignity and empathy.
  6. Lay off the candidate in a private setting and don't do it alone. You should be in a neutral environment free from the eyes of this employees soon to be former colleagues. Have a door present. A conference room can work well, or your office. It's important, however, to have an additional set of eyes and ears present since this protects your company. Also, you never know how this individual may react to their layoff; therefore, having that additional body protects you as well.
  7. Lay out all of their options including, but not limited to, details of their insurance benefits, final paycheck, and unemployment options. This is another way for you to demonstrate empathy and treat this individual with dignity and respect.
  8. A good best practice is never to fire someone late in the day. This is moreso a helpful tip to employers. At the end of the day, business must continue regardless whether this individual remains with you or is laid off. If that is the case, get this done as soon as possible so that it doesn't weigh you down throughout the day. Believe me, you'll get nothing done if you delay this.
  9. Finally, don't fire someone just before the weekend. When this candidate goes home on a Friday, their entire weekend - typically a time of relaxation - will be used as a time of mourning and potential overreaction to the situation. Firing someone earlier in the week gives them time to mourn, and also gives them two additional days to be action oriented in the market and begin sourcing new opportunities. For someone who is laid off, these additional days can function as a catalyst and inspire them to success in their job hunt.