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Employee Terminations: What to Say to Your Team After Firing an Employee

Communicating with your team after a firing is a lot like walking a tightrope. It can be difficult to find the balance between not saying enough and saying too much – and it’s not much fun either. But with the right approach, you can actually bring your team closer together.

You may be tempted to not say anything and take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. But that is almost always a bad decision. If you don’t communicate:

  • Gossip will likely spread like wildfire
  • Trust in the employer or management may erode
  • Employees may feel their jobs are in jeopardy and begin to look elsewhere
  • Fear may spread that company-wide layoffs are coming
  • Office communication may break down
  • People may worry they will have to take on too much work until a replacement is found

The key is to keep your delivery simple and to back it up with good, consistent policies.

Just say no to drama

The best approach is to share only the facts. Here’s the basic speech:

_______ no longer works here.
Our transition plan is ____________.
If you have any questions, speak to __________.

Simple as that.

Just deliver your lines in a quiet, calm voice. This will go a long way toward mitigating any fears your team may have. 

Take the high road 

Though you may be seething inside, you must resist the urge to criticize. If you allow the former employee dignity, even in this difficult situation, it will go a long way toward winning the respect of your team.

You don’t need to mention the “f’” word. It’s never a good practice to tell your team that an individual has been “fired,” and you should never comment on the former employee’s reasons for leaving. Doing so may have legal consequences if the firing prompts future legal action. You could also be accused of slander.

If employees ask why the person was let go, say it is company policy to not release personal information. But typically, the rest of your team has witnessed the problems and knows the reasons behind the termination.

Nip rumors in the bud 

If you suspect the rumor mill is cranking up and distracting people from their work, don’t waste any time. Bring the person instigating the problem into your office and have a calm conversation, which might start something like this:

“I hear you’re having questions about ______. I can’t talk to you about any personal information, just as I wouldn’t share yours. But please help me understand what’s bothering you. What is your concern?”

Your goal is to get preoccupied employees to tell you what is really bothering them so you can address it. If it’s workload-related, talk about the transition plan and offer relief, if possible.

Maybe they’re afraid they’ll be next. If that’s the case, reassure them that there will not be mass layoffs and that there is a process before termination, typically including coaching, warnings, etc.

Choose the timing and medium

How you tell your team about a firing generally depends on:

  • The size of your team
  • Employees’ relationships with the person who was terminated

Timing

Take a deep breath and get your thoughts together first. You don’t have to break the news immediately.

  • Let direct co-workers know within an hour or two, but be sensitive to interrupting workflow.
  • If the rest of your team’s contact with the terminated individual is casual or infrequent, it’s OK to tell them the next day.

Firing an employee early or late in the day is often less uncomfortable for everyone, as fewer people are likely to be present in the office at those times.

Medium

The medium you use also depends on the rest of your team’s relationship with the person who has been fired.

  • If the person was a close associate or if your company is small, a quick, casual meeting in a common area is usually best.
  • If the person did not work closely with your team, if your company is large or if the terminated individual was an executive, email might be fine.

Manage the inevitable

The day will inevitably come when you have to have “the talk.” If you get your ducks in a row early, you will be more relaxed and confident when you must handle future situations.

Have a communication plan in place and back it up with a consistent, documented and communicated discipline process and handbook for conduct.

Consistency is paramount. If people understand expectations, and what happens if they aren’t met, they usually aren’t afraid that they could be the next to go.

It’s important to show your team that the company values employees, and if it’s not a good fit, there is a process in place for coaching. If that doesn’t work, they will be allowed to exit gracefully.

Have more HR questions? 

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T
Taurai

Thank you for sharing this impartial process. Less than 2 weeks ago I had to terminate someone. It is not a decision I took lightly. I could have done it a year ago. But I had hoped the employee would heed my repeated advice. and warnings. What makes matters harder is, the person was the most senior in our start-up (which is only 2 years old), having been with us since our earliest days in the trenches. I sat the remaining team down and shared the news in a few sentences which didn’t paint the other person bad. But I emphasized that certain company policies had not been adhered to by the employee. The next item on the agenda was our way forward as a company (new duties for those who had to take over the vacant position). And why we had to strengthen our training program to ensure improved succession. 2 weeks down the road we seem to have weathered that storm well. Morale is good.

Insperity Blog

Thank you for sharing your experience, Taurai. Clearly, you handled the situation with great skill and sensitivity to the needs of your team and company. Your example will likely help others realize that they too can navigate similar situations.

S
Susan

I just interviewed a candidate for a managerial role, and I asked her to give me an example of when she has had to terminate an employee, what happened, how she managed the situation, and how she managed the remaining team. She verbatim told the team the person was fired, and for these reasons, and explicitly explained why. The next candidate had done exactly the same thing. I was surprised to hear these managers were freely sharing the particulars of the termination with the team!

Insperity Blog

That is interesting, Susan. Each situation is different, depending on the circumstances and relationships involved, and thus, each requires a different method of management and communication. Thanks for sharing!

C
Charles Muhigirwa

what a tactical skill when communicating firing of an employee!!! Thanks for wonderful posts on human resources management.

Insperity Blog

Thank you for your kind words, Charles! It always makes our day to know our content is both helpful and enjoyed 🙂