There are certain things that must happen in business. Some things are much less pleasant than others, but they are all necessary to continue to grow the business and do what is right for the business to prosper. One of the more negative things that must happen is firing employees.
I’m not talking about layoffs, I’m talking about having to fire someone because of something they did (or didn’t) do. Firing an employee, no matter what they’ve done, is usually a pretty horrible experience for all parties involved, even if the employee absolutely deserved to be fired.
I’ve been in the boat where I’ve had to send an employee or two packing (luckily, I’ve never been on the other end of the stick…knock on wood). One specific incident that I remember involved a young kid just out of high school who wouldn’t take his tongue ring out while at work and he wouldn’t show up on time for his shift 45% of the time. Of course, the most important thing to do in any situation with any employee is to document everything…so, I did. He was written up over and over again, I coached him on his behavior, and we developed an action plan (that he agreed to and was even excited about) to increase his attendance and change his behavior while at work. No matter what I did to try to help him, he just kept right on doing what he wanted to.
At the end of it all I had to give him his final write-up and send him on his way. Of course I kept it very professional, I had all of my documentation in order, and I stated all the facts of why he would no longer be employed by the company. I let him say his peace (which wasn’t much) and I asked him what I could have done better as his manager to help him succeed. To my dismay (or maybe relief) he said that I had done everything I possibly could and it was just him – that he needed to grow up and be more responsible. WOW! Too bad he couldn’t have realized that before it had gotten to this point. Then I wished him the best in his future endeavors. It was difficult and sad to do, but it had to be done to keep the business moving forward strong.
There are two ways to let employees go – the right way and the wrong way.
The wrong way can consist of many things, but ultimately, as AOL CEO Tim Armstrong did, firing someone in front of a thousand employees, or even one other employee, is absolutely the wrong way. It then becomes public humiliation and everyone in the company then knows what happened and why you were fired. You can bet that within in minutes of Armstrong firing his creative director on the staff call every person in the company (on the phone or not) knew about what happened. Bad judgment, bad call, and I would think that it would take more than an apology to set things right again with that employee.
The right way consists of a private conversation, away from other coworkers, where no one else except the direct people involved know what is going on. The supervisor and/or HR need to ensure there is proper documentation to support letting the employee go to create minimal risk of a court battle over the firing. The employee should also be told very specifically why he or she is being fired. I understand that states, such as California, are At-Will Employers; however, I believe it’s the ethical thing to do to tell the employee why they are being let go.
However, the best thing is to see if the employee is willing to work with you to change their behavior so they can continue to be employed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, though.