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
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.
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.
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