A smirky demeanor. An eagerness to deliver bad news. A willingness to be the bad guy. It’s the callousness that might accompany the final step of employment for an individual. Have you seen it? Are you guilty of being this person?
From a humanistic standpoint, there is satisfaction in watching a poor performer lose. It’s why movies like “Working Girl” or “9 to 5” are shown on TCM. The plot lines are classic and stir up in us a desire to see someone pay for taking credit for the work of others. We want to see that perpetrator fired. We want to see the hard-working underdog get his/her retribution and overdue recognition. Our nature inclines toward a measure of justice, fairness and goodness.
And yet, when a termination has to happen, even if for those reasons, do we in human resources lose our composure and impartiality? Think about why Roz, the HR Manager, in "9 to 5" is believable. And though we’re not judges, we do represent the larger picture for the organizational culture we seek to encourage. If we’re cruel with someone’s feelings or circumstances, then others who work in the organization might view our approach as exemplary of how things are done at the company. What was just about a termination might now open the door for sub-par treatment in other employment relationships.
- Gossip – How many people really need to know about the termination? The temptation to share with at least one other person is real. And while that may not tempt you, it may be that the HR team has taken to inter-departmental gossip about a particular person’s departure. We call that “safe” since it’s among the HR staff. Is it? What is our example to our junior staff members? If we complain that HR is not included in some other components of the organization’s function and development, perhaps it’s due to the known loose lips of the HR department, even amongst each other. Gossip is only about making you feel better about yourself, pure and simple. Listen to what you’re saying about others as you share. Would you just die if those personal notes were being shared about you to others?
- Just Cause – Of course, documentation is a necessary component of any good termination process as it really starts as part of the overall discipline process, but are you building a case out of a real problematic situation or more because you don’t like the person? I have watched good employees be terminated because someone did not like a personality, a habit, a laugh (I’m not kidding), etc. Would it be any surprise that people would be afraid to be around an HR department like this? Who could be secure? Look at why and how these terminations are occurring. Validity and consistency of approach are pillars for the HR team.
- Management Training – Every termination is an opportunity to grow management. Allow each situation to be a case study for discussion, explanation and potential change with management. Is there something that should have been or could be done better? Look together at how this termination might spur others on towards excellence. How do we foster that? Develop a plan of growth with management for those employees whose cages will be rattled. Train a manager through this. Or just settle for the basic thrill of dropping the hammer on someone’s employment. It’s too easy to merely laugh with management and then be done. Use every opportunity to grow people.
- HR Support – Why did this employee fail? While, in certain circumstances, it will be hard to find anything more that the organization could have done to support the success of the employee, it won’t be the case all of the time. What broke? Why? If it means job duty changes, do it. If it’s about qualifications rather than the duties, then update them. If a manager is struggling to deal with someone different than him/her, then coach them. Whatever action has to happen, work out a plan to do it. Too many HR departments will sit back after a termination and throttle the manager or other employees in the department. We know best, right? As we sit in our unapproachable offices sitting on our ergonomic throne, we dictate our truths about our people and our company. Probably not the best approach.
This employee being fired is a person. And as simple as this last thought may be, it is classically the one forgotten the most. He/She has to go home and tell loved ones. He/She has to deal with what's next. And while it may be completely the fault of this person as to why the separation is occurring, and we had to act to separate, this person should be treated respectfully in the process. It may not make for a great movie to end this way, but it makes for a great company when even the separation displays the right kind of response and culture.