Fire With Grace

Ed Baldwin Ed Baldwin, Employee Relations, Employment Branding and Culture, Good HR, HR, Outplacement, Performance, Personal Conduct Policy 5 Comments

Grace is a word not often used in a business context. It should probably be used more.

And even less so, grace is not something we typically associate with firing someone, taking away someone’s source of financial security, involuntarily.

But we should. Because when it comes to firing someone, grace on the part of the employer is what’s needed most.

As a career HR pro, I’ve had to terminate many people. Admittedly, most had it coming. Stealing from the company, harassing another employee, or gross misconduct of all shapes and sizes. These terminations are easy.

Other terminations were because they weren’t doing their job, or were doing it poorly. These terminations are more complicated.

But regardless of the reasons for an employee’s firing, grace is always in order. Because as the person representing the employer you can’t resort to terminating someone in an ugly fashion. Lowering your standards to fit the situation, that’s just not cool, and it will come back to haunt you.

It’s a small world out there, and treating people with dignity at all points in the employee life cycle is critically important. Important to your company’s employment brand, your company’s reputation, and to your reputation as an HR pro. So when you’re tempted to get nasty, resist. Seek higher ground.

The termination process is already bad enough. You’re removing the employee of all control. You’re in complete command of the situation. They’ve lost their job and now have to find a way to recover. Don’t make matters worse. Do what you can to help.

Here are some tips that will help ensure you make the best of a bad situation for the employee when terminating a person’s employment. Dare I say ways to show grace:

  1. Candor regarding the reasons for their termination – the only way the employee can learn from their mistakes and reasonably move to what’s next for them is to receive the real reason or reasons as to why they are being terminated. Don’t BS them, be straight. Straight may seem harsh but in reality, being less than honest is actually worse.
  2. Kind words of appreciation for what they did contribute – just because you’re terminating them doesn’t mean they didn’t deliver anything worthwhile when employed. If they did do some good things, anything good, acknowledge them and thank them for what they did deliver.
  3. Wish them the best in their new endeavors – authentically showing that you care about them can take the edge off. I fully acknowledge this is a fine line as some will attempt to spin your empathy (not sympathy) with “then why are you terminating me?” but they’ll appreciate the gesture later even if they don’t take you up on it.
  4. Guidance or counsel on resources they can turn to – there are lots of free resources for people who are looking for work and are out of a job. Networking, job search groups, volunteer groups, etc.  The terminated employee will want to know how they can continue their insurance, apply for unemployment, and what you’ll say/not say when unemployment or their next prospective employer calls to discuss their termination. Be honest with them about what information will and won’t be shared, and with whom, so they can plan accordingly.
  5. But above all, be respectful.  Even if it’s not returned. I’ve had many terminations where the employee got emotional, lost control, and said a bunch of nasty things about me or the company I was working for.  While I didn’t appreciate it, I understood.  They were losing their job. I was just doing mine.

Show grace when terminating employees.  Doing so will strengthen your employer brand and show all employees (current, former and future) that you genuinely care about your people – past, present and future.  That people in your business are not just an inconsequential cog in the big wheel referred to as “labor cost”.

As HR/talent pros we are the ones that own the termination process.  Make certain it’s one that keeps people’s dignity intact – theirs and yours.  

Ed Baldwin

Ed’s a career HR front man who’s advised business owners and the C-suite on developing great cultures and inspiring work environments since the profession was called “personnel.” Yeah, that makes him seasoned but also quick to call out the fluffy HR theoretical crap from HR strategies that actually work.

His versatility has taken him all over the world, continually acquiring knowledge of how to build a great company through innovative HR practices, learning mostly from real world experience and his own mistakes.

He’s the founder of HRO Partners, a HR consulting firm that specializes in guiding leaders on what they need and don’t need from HR for their business.

Comments 5

  1. Great advice Ed. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I’ve had an employee took the situation – improved, and came back to me years later and thanked me for what I did and how it was handled. The small things matter tremendously.

    1. Ed Baldwin Post

      Absolutely right, thanks for sharing. While accolades over the way you handled someone’s termination is rare, it sure it appreciated – especially when the employee benefits from it. Thanks for sharing Brent.

  2. Ed, totally agree on a majority of your points. I think, above all, the individual in the unfortunate position of having to fire someone should be professional. They should also recognize the situation and act accordingly. Firing someone for theft or harassment is obviously different then performance or as a results of job elimination, layoff, etc. There are times when showing empathy or grace is needed, but other time’s keeping it short and direct is more important.

    If it’s performance based, if HR and the management team have really done their job, it shouldn’t be complicated. In fact, I would argue the employee shouldn’t really be surprised. I say this because I worry your advice might lead HR professionals to talk too much during the firing.

    Last, I would just add that being worried about your personal or employer brand while firing someone sounds disingenuous. And it will come across that way. No one is going to go home and say “Hey Hun, I got fired today but Logan was really nice when he did it so no worries about the mortgage. We’re actually meeting for beers later.” 🙂

    1. Ed Baldwin Post

      Good additions for proper protocol when it comes to terminations. Terms for cause should be quick and direct. Terms for performance should not be a surprise. And finally, don’t worry about your employer brand, show authentic concern for the person being terminated. That way your employment brand will take care of itself. Thanks for the comments Logan.

  3. Pingback: Fire With Grace | Cannon Consulting

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