How to handle firing someone…and being fired

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by Kay Mathews

Firing someone and being let go are two very unpleasant experiences in life. The perspectives of those who have faced both circumstances shed insights on how executives can ensure that the tough termination conversation goes smoothly and how employees can recover after losing their job.

In an interview with B2B News Network, David Waring, co-founder of B2B firm Fit Small Business, explained how an executive can ensure the tough termination conversation goes smoothly, how to prepare for it, and what should be said during that meeting.

Handing the pink slip, especially when it’s due to a redundancy rather than misfit behaiour, is a painful exercise for any executive.

“In situations like this the person you are speaking to is likely going to be hanging on your every word. With this in mind, this is the wrong time to wing it. Make sure you know what you are going to say before you enter the meeting and then stick to the script,” Waring says.

Be professional, he adds. “The temptation is to talk about how bad you feel that they are being made redundant and how great of an employee they were. This is not the time for that. Don’t be mean, but stick to the facts of why you are having to let them go and leave it at that. This will help the person see that this is not personal but a business decision, which should also help you maintain a better relationship with them in the long run.”

Also, organize what you plan to offer, if anything, in terms of severance and what you expect from the employee after your meeting with them.

When asked how he personally handled a conversation like this, Waring said:

I have not personally had to let someone go because of a redundancy but I have had to fire people over the years for lack of performance. I recently had to fire one of our marketing staff at FitSmallBusiness.com for lack of performance. The difference when you are firing someone for performance is that they will often try to argue with you or try and convince you to give them another chance. These conversations are not the time for negotiations, so I always stuck to the facts. I am letting you go, here is why, here is what we can offer as severance. If the person I was firing tried to take the conversation in a different direction I always just restarted why I was letting them go and that this was all I was willing to say.

In terms of preparing for, and what should be said, during this conversation, Waring advised: “I made sure that it was clear in my head exactly what I was going to say about why I was letting the person go and what the next steps would be in terms of severance, wrapping up payroll, and what I needed from them in terms of equipment returned and logins to our systems.”

The staffer on the receiving end needs to know clearly why they are being let go, Waring notes, and what is expected of them after the meeting. Other than that it’s best to keep the conversations short. You rarely make the situation better by getting into a longer discussion and potentially open yourself up to liability.

Facing the firing squad

While it may be a tough conversation for employers, it can be a life-altering event for those on the receiving end of a termination conversation. The situation can, however, be handled with grace, determination, flexibility, and humility, and can offer positive lessons for others on how to recover.

That is the story of Maralyn Owen, a resident of Chicago, who was let go from her guest relations position at Suite Partners in 2012.

Suite is a blend of experiential marketing, brand content, production and social media and its clients include Nike, Accenture, and Sears’ brands Craftsman and Kenmore. From 2010 to 2012 Owen worked with Suite Partners, which included guest relations duties at Craftsman Experience’s state-of-the-art television production set on W. Huron in Chicago that was the “interactive do-it-yourself online broadcasting network of Craftsman tools.”

Maralyn Owen
Maralyn Owen

“I loved my job at Suite Partners,” Owen said. “It was everything I had ever dreamed of. I left the routine of the law office I was working at for the opportunity of actually using some personality in my job.”

In Owen’s case, the actual termination came after a series of reorganization conversations. According to Owen, “The first wage cut came and I lost $25,000 off my salary and I didn’t even care. I wanted to stay for the long haul. Then, I was laid off for an entire month as they tried to decide where to place me during the next reorganization brought on by cuts from Sears. Then, six months later, the final cut came.”

For Owen, the termination conversation did not come as a surprise, which allowed her to take it in stride knowing that she would receive unemployment payments for about a year that would help to tide her over until she could find another job

During that year, Owen said she found herself “struggling to make mortgage payments and pay assessments on my condo in downtown Chicago.” And finding another, similar, job proved to be a challenge. “The Oprah Winfrey Show had folded up and then quickly after The Rosie Show so all those very talented people with years of experience – I had not quite two – were out there looking for the same work I was,” said Owen. “I started falling behind on my payments and eventually agreed to sell my home of eight years in a ‘short sale’ in order to stay afloat and get out from under the $2000.00 per month costs of my condo.”

Speaking frankly, Owen went on to say “It was heartbreaking and embarrassing,” and very difficult “to find an apartment that would accept a 130 lb. dog!” Owen is a dog-lover and the proud owner of Bosley, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. “I finally found one and packed up my home of eight years and said goodbye to downtown Chicago, which was my lifelong dream.”

To help make ends meet, Owen became an independent consultant at skin-care company Arbonne, but knew that “the end of unemployment was looming” and she was still struggling. Owen began searching for a “regular” job even if it meant going back to the sometimes tedious field of law. For the first time in her life, Owen began “the practice of trying to find a job online, which is the reality of today’s job market.”

In the end, though, it was through personal connections that Owen found another position. “Finally, after six months searching and a lot of cold and hungry nights, a friend of a friend had a husband looking for an office manager,” said Owen. “I interviewed, along with 4-5 other women, all younger than I was and I got the job. It was only part-time so it was another year of struggle until this job morphed into full-time.”

Owen said, “It was a humbling experience for me, the ‘downtown woman’ that I was.” But, she handled being let go from a job she loved with confidence, determination, flexibility, and humility and ultimately secured a full-time position with a legal group in Chicago.

Do you have any positive/negative stories about being fired or doing the firing? Let us know @b2bnewsnetwork!

Lead photo via Brazen Careerist

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