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How to fire employees with dignity

August 22, 2017 06:41 IST

'Demonstrating respect and compassion during exit meetings are important.'
'After all, how you treat people on their way out of the door does not go unnoticed by the rest of your organisation,' says Shyamal Majumdar.

layoff firing

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

The over six-minute long audio clip in which a human resource executive of the Mahindra group is heard asking an employee to put in his papers by 10 am the next day or his services at the company will be terminated has raised a lot of heat and dust. But consider this: Has the HR executive done anything out of the ordinary?

A host of companies follow this practice when they decide to let go of employees. In fact, most companies think they do a great favour to people in the firing line by giving them the option of resigning.

So, if the HR executive concerned is wondering what the noise is all about, the answer is simple: Something that happens quiet regularly within the confines of cabins is now out in the public domain and has gone viral. Plain bad luck for the Mahindra group as it's certainly not alone.

It's quite strange that even many well-managed companies can't handle exits in a more dignified manner and forget that the purpose of a meeting to break the often inevitable bad news is not to demean the employee or to hurt his self-esteem.

In fact, everyone's best interests are served when the employee is able to move forward with his life as quickly as possible.

Some companies choose other -- more devious -- ways of humiliating employees whom they don't want.

Here is an example. The boss of a junior manager who supervised five employees called him one day to say he was taking one of the people under him off his hands to give him more time to work on bigger projects.

The junior manager was happy because it would (or so he thought) give him an opportunity to grow.

A few days later, the company issued a circular deciding to take away the manager title -- and bonuses -- from anyone who managed less than five people.

The junior manager may have been incompetent, and the boss was well within his rights to remove him from the post.

But by playing a game, he lost the confidence of his entire team.

But come to think of it, many managers play such games as they dread a meeting where they have to ask an employee to go. Such a meeting can end in tears and tempers.

But while sacking an employee is never going to be pleasant, it's a necessary part of the job when you're a manager. So, what is the right way to do it?

Thankfully, there are many other companies that have found a way out.

A leading software firm had identified quite a few employees, who had to be let go because of performance issues.

What the company did was to give them the option to resign, or to stay with the company at a nominal compensation and receive training for a fixed time frame.

The idea was to hand-hold these employees while helping them to get jobs, so that they can walk out of the door with their heads still held high.

Some others give non-performers an opportunity to raise performance levels through additional training and consistent mentoring over the next 12 months.

It also sends resumes and contact details of these employees to its external placement partners to help outplace the employees.

There are generally three parts to such outplacement actions: Emotional counselling, financial counselling and career counselling.

These companies know that nothing makes an employee angrier than feeling blindsided when fired. So, they believe letting their employee go is the last step in a careful, fair and transparent process that started long before the actual firing.

In other words, if the dismissal is for poor performance, then it should occur after a series of performance discussions and plans.

If it's due to job redundancies, it also should follow conversations, announcements, and a reasonable fair warning.

This is not to argue that there is no case for managers to not fire people who need to be fired.

If an employee has been identified as a marginal performer for months on end, and the manager takes no initiative to let the person go, he is doing a great disservice to his employer.

But it's equally true that demonstrating respect and compassion during exit meetings are important.

After all, how you treat people on their way out of the door does not go unnoticed by the rest of your organisation.

Shyamal Majumdar
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