You have made a difficult decision – you need to let an employee go. Before you hold that challenging conversation, which will be hard for the employee to hear and understand, and difficult for you as well, invest some time in preparation to ensure a dignified and respectful experience for the departing employee.
Each stage of the notification process needs to be thought through, well laid out, and delivered as planned. Consider everything from the severance package, your termination script, the meeting location, on-site coaching support, and how to deal with emotional reactions.
To help you prepare, consider the following tips from JL Careers’ Manager’s Guide to Conducting Notification Meetings:
Location, Location, Location
Conduct the meeting in a private room, away from other employees. Ensure there is a direct pathway to the door so the employee can leave the premises with dignity, and not run into other employees. To further support a respectful departure, these meetings are often scheduled towards the end of the workday when fewer employees are around.
Know your Script and Stick to It
To ensure this discussion is successful, work with your HR team or a Career Transition Coach to develop a concise, and respectful script for your notification meeting.
The notification meeting is brief – often 5-10 minutes in length, where you deliver a difficult message about the employee’s employment being terminated, then ask if the employee has any questions. You’ll provide their severance information and introduce a Career Transition Coach to help them with next steps.
It is key to remember that the purpose of this meeting is not to explain or defend your decision. Nor is it to conduct a performance appraisal. It is to simply notify the employee that their employment with your organization has ended.
Should you be tempted to go into detail, be aware that your comments and explanations are often not well received by the employee. They could become defensive, perhaps argumentative resulting in a very negative and toxic interaction. Instead, focus on and listen to the employee, then restate that the decision is final.
Dealing with Emotions
While some employees might remain calm and collected, as they may have wanted to change jobs, for many employees this information will come as a shock. The following are some possible reactions and strategies to stay on track.
Reaction: “Why me?”
Strategy: “This has been a difficult decision, but it is final.”
Reaction: Bargaining – “I can work harder”. “I am willing to move to another department”.
Strategy: You can empathize that you understand their commitment to the organization, but the decision is final.
Strategy: The best option is to let the employee vent. Do not defend your decision or interrupt the employee. Instead, focus in and listen. If they continue to be angry, state: “I understand you are angry. Let me introduce (name of the Career Transition Coach), your career coach who is here to support you and help you find new employment.”
Reaction: “Is this about my performance?”
Strategy: If this is not due to a performance issue but rather a corporate restructuring, let them know that the restructuring has impacted their job. If this is due to a performance issue, this is not the time or place to go into details. Your response could be: “This has been a difficult decision, but it is final. If you would like to discuss this further, I would be open to meeting with you at a later date. For today we would like to show you your severance package and introduce your Career Transition Coach.
Strategy: Be sensitive and offer them tissue. Give them time to collect themselves before proceeding. Should the crying continue, you might state: “I can see you are deeply impacted by this news. Let me introduce (name of Career Transition Coach), your career coach, who is here to support you and help you find new employment.”
Reaction: No reaction or discussion.
Strategy: Do not probe. Maintain respect for the manner in which the employee is processing the news. This would be the best time to introduce the Career Transition Coach who will counsel the employee and discuss how they are coping with the news.
Keep your Composure
These meetings are challenging as you are delivering difficult news. When notification meetings go sideways, usually one of two things have happened: the employee negatively reacts (which we’ve addressed above), or the manager has not kept their composure and gone off script.
The following are some tips to keep you focused and composed:
- Practice your script the night before. Know what you need to say and don’t deviate. Keep your script on hand during your meeting to refer to.
- Do something energetic before heading into the meeting: a brisk walk to clear your head, a quick jog at lunch, or run a flight of stairs. This shift in energy will help you keep your mind sharp and clearly focused on conducting an effective meeting. It also allows you to project a calm, poised yet personable perspective.
- If you feel you are getting emotional, remember this is hard on you but much harder on the employee.
- Breathe! Your emotional reaction is triggering a fight or flight response. Fight = aggressively defending your decision or battling out performance issues that should have been discussed long before you decided you needed to let this person go. Flight = apologizing and being overly emotional or being dismissive and disrespectful as you just want the meeting to end. Instead, take a deep breath, focus in and listen.
- Focus in and listen. Not only does this get you off the hot seat, but it is respectful to show the employee you are present and open to hearing what they have to say. You don’t need to agree or disagree with them. The power is in listening vs reacting.
Provide On-Site Coaching Support
This is a traumatic experience for most employees. They may be confused, angry or crying. A Career Transition Coach provides on-site coaching support to help the employee understand what has happened, counsel them through their emotion reactions, and understand they have support to help them launch a successful job search.
Communicate to the Team
Mitigate office rumours and negative backlash by speaking directly with the employee’s work team immediately after the notification meeting (in person, or via phone or email) while the employee is meeting with the Career Transition Coach, or first thing the next morning.
Let the team know that a difficult decision has been made and that the employee is no longer working with your organization. To ease concerns, state that you are not expecting further changes. Then thank all of them for their contribution to the current initiative or projects that the team is working on. Offer that if they have any concerns or questions, they can individually drop by your office.
Notification Meetings are Never Easy
Planning and preparation are key to ensuring you are ready to conduct a termination meeting that is respectful and ensures the employee leaves the premises with dignity.
JL Careers’ Outplacement Services
JL Careers delivers high-quality, customized career transition programs that help you and your HR team navigate potential notification meeting challenges and facilitate a smooth, respectful departure. From onsite support to proven job search strategies, we’ll help your exiting employee benefit from a well-supported career transition experience.
Our outplacement services include:
- Coaching to prepare the manager for the notification meeting
- On-site employee support
- Managing Change Workshop for remaining workers
- Individual Career Transition Coaching Programs for executive, professional and support staff delivered with expertise and care.
Our career transition services are cost-effective, highly professional and delivered by certified coaches. We’ll guide your HR team through the steps critical to mitigate organizational risk, provide coaching to support the manager conducting the notification meeting, be onsite to provide employee counselling and support, and assist impacted employees toward new employment.
Contact us today for a copy of our Manager’s Guide to Conducting Employee Notification Meetings. The JL Careers team of Career Coaches are here to help you plan and deliver a respectful employee termination. We do it with professionalism, respect and care.
Wishing you much career success!
Certified Executive Coach & Internationally Certified Career Management Professional
JL Careers Inc