by Meridith Levinson

6 More Mistakes Managers Make When Firing Employees

Nov 02, 20114 mins
IT LeadershipStaff Management

Terminating an employee is one of the hardest things a manager will ever have to do. Because firing someone can be so emotionally charged and logistically complicated, it's an easy process to mess up. Here are six more common mistakes managers make.

Terminating an employee, whether for performance or financial reasons, is one of the hardest actions managers ever have to take. It’s fraught with fear (what if the employee goes postal when I tell him he’s fired?), guilt (this employee may lose her home because of me) and shame (I hired the wrong person for the job).  

 Because firing an employee can be so emotionally difficult and logistically complicated   with all the necessary paperwork and documentation, it’s easy to mess up. 

 “I’ve talked to 30-year veterans who’ve had to fire hundreds of employees and they tell me it never gets easy,” says Seymour Adler, a senior vice president with HR consulting company Aon Hewitt.    

 In my recent article, How to Fire People the Right Way, I list 11 of the most common mistakes managers make when terminating employees. I have a few more mistakes that I wasn’t able to include in my story but  can share with you now. Hopefully, being aware of these mistakes will help you avoid making them. 

1. Managers use data that should be off limits to justify layoff decisions. Dan Bocabella, senior director of product management for SumTotal Systems, a maker of talent management software, says he’s seen a higher percentage of wrongful termination cases at organizations that use data from 360 assessments or leadership development efforts to make layoff decisions. Using this kind of data becomes a legal problem for an employer when the employer previously told employees that the data was going to be used strictly for a developmental process. Because the employer misrepresented how they were going to use the data, employees have a stronger case for a wrongful termination suit, he says. 

2. They base the termination on one bad performance review. This can hurt an employer in a couple of ways. One: If the employee had an otherwise clean HR and performance record inside the company, she can allege wrongful termination. Two: If the manager doesn’t consider other data points, such as how difficult it may be to replace the individual, he may face a long, costly recruiting process that burdens remaining staff with extra work. 

3. Managers either talk too much or too little during the meeting with the employee. Not saying enough about the termination, particularly if it’s financially motivated as opposed to performance-driven, conveys a lack of empathy, says Adler. Talking a lot presumes that the person being terminated is actually listening. In fact, when an employee learns his job is being cut, his mind goes into survival mode and it’s hard for him to process complex information, says Adler. “This is not the time to go through the company’s financials,” he says. 

4. Managers carry on about how hard the termination is for them. Adler notes that many managers make the mistake of making a fuss about how hard it is for them to sever the employee. They go on and on about how much sleep they’ve lost over having to do this and how horrible they feel in order to appear empathetic, he says. It’s a bad tactic because no matter how bad the manager may feel, she still has her job, and the employee getting fired is simply in no mood to hear how awful the manager feels. 

5. They don’t explain potentially demeaning procedures. It’s not uncommon for security personnel to escort terminated employees out of the office. Yet managers fail to explain why the employee has to go through this potentially embarrassing procedure. Managers should tell employees that this is standard procedure and that they’re not being singled out, says Adler. 

6. They don’t explain the firing decision to remaining staff. When an employee or group of employees loses their job for performance or financial reasons, it can have a ripple effect on remaining staff. If the manager who made the termination decision doesn’t explain what happened and why, remaining staff may begin to worry about their jobs, and morale can plummet, says Adler. Managers need to explain to existing staff that a termination decision was fair and fact-based. If a team member lost her job because of poor performance, adds Adler, the manager should tell remaining employees that the terminated employee had repeatedly been coached on how to improve her performance but, for whatever reason, failed to improve. This way, employees who are meeting their performance goals don’t have to worry. 

What mistakes would you like to add to this list?