Letting an employee go is one of the trickiest key tasks of a manager. It is part of management and accountability.
It’s never the thing we were looking forward to doing when taking over a department or becoming the big boss. Yet it’s necessary to, as Jim Collins would put it, get the right people ON the bus and the wrong people OFF the bus.
These seven ways and excuses for people being fired destroy moral and create a culture of fear and mistrust in your department or in the whole organization depending on a manager’s level of influence. Beware and do an about-face if you have been guilty of any one of them.
1. When you’re angry at the person
You’re not supposed to go food shopping when you’re hungry and you’re not supposed to drive when you’re sleepy. Neither should you fire an employee in anger on the spot, except for egregious behavior, violence or criminal acts.
No major decisions should be made on the spot. It shortcuts critical thinking and creates drama where it needn’t be. In many cases, upon review, it is even illegal and I’ve seen companies either back track or suffer penalties and grievances from EEO and other sources of redress. There is no harm done in entering a process in accordance with guidelines already set up by the organization.
Now, there is a notable exception. Almost every employee handbook has listed reasons for immediate suspension or discharge. They include:
- violence, as in assault, sexual molestation and threats
- any illegal behavior, from drug use* to viewing porn on intranet-connected computers. * Managers may choose to send people to rehab before actually terminating them.
- theft of property or work time
- deceptive practices, including falsifying documents or covering up mistakes, taking credit for another’s work, etc.
2. In a disingenuous manner
“We have to make budget cuts and we have to eliminate your position.” Firing is more than a layoff. Be honest that it was a performance-driven decision, not a budgetary one.
Give the person the information they need to grow, if not for your organization, for their future employ. Don’t trump up false charges to cover the fact that you’re violating anti-discrimination laws, either.
3. By proxy
The term “hatchet man” (or woman) is originally a description of a hired killer. In enterprise, it is used to describe a person who does the bosses’ dirty work or unscrupulous tasks. Unfortunately, it is also the common practice of fear-driven managers, delegating such duty so that they can remain unsullied and keep the “nice guy” image.
Of course, your executive assistant or Chief of Staff in a large organization can and should wield that authority, but in cases where that is inappropriate, like your own direct reports, do it yourself!
4. Without prior warning – no paper trail
In some cases it is even illegal to fire someone seemingly without a cause. There may be a cause , but if you have not been open about the mounting disappointment with a person’s performance all along and have been less than straightforward about how on-the-line the staffer’s job has been, that’s just wrong.
5.To avoid a conflict
How many times have we seen people let go under less than auspicious circumstances simply because the manager lacked the courage to confront poor behavior in real-time. Then they’re dismissed and ushered out the door. Truth be told, having a courageous series of conversations may even have turned poor behavior around and secured the manager’s credibility with the rest of the team.
Unfortunately, I have seen constant instances where fearful, passive managers (even at high levels) have let people go when a relationship could have been salvageable. First recognize this tendency, then learn to do better. People are needlessly hurt because if a boss’s inability to communicate. Passive aggression is aggression, nonetheless.
6. To cover your butt
You were warned that the consultant was spending millions of the company’s dollars with very little return on investment. You heard the complaints from several of your staffers but ignored them; after all, you and the consultant get along grandly.
Now the CFO find out the consultant has been misappropriating funds and she is looking for whom to blame for it. You suddenly “realize” that the consultant was a fraud and kick him out the door.
In agencies dealing with the lives of children, case workers are regularly “thrown under the bus”, as the fall for agencies to deflect media scrutiny and political heat. Sometimes the agencies have no choice depending on their funding source. Other time the reasons are simply political. Either way, it’s wrong.
Sometimes it is necessary to fire someone without saying anything to the wider staff. In the overwhelming majority of cases, it is appropriate to at least acknowledge an employee’s departure. No, I am not saying it is always appropriate to tell the reason why. Sometimes it would be too morale-destroying or gossipy to do so. But we’ve all seen the occasional employee simply “disappear” without a mention. That is damaging to the company’s ethos, trustworthiness and integrity.
In restoring dignity and ethics to the workplace, these 7 deadly sins should be well avoided. Each of them has a boomerang affect your company will feel for years down the line.