Contributed Column

Personnel Points, by Dave Mount, Westaff

Never on Friday

Nobody likes to terminate employees — it can be almost as unpleasant as being terminated — but it is a necessary part of business today. It’s a lesson that new managers learn fairly early-on and it often proves to be the best for all concerned.

Stories abound of disgruntled employees who extract some form of revenge on their former employers after a messy termination.

Several years ago, a large Burlington-area employer was doing a rather sizeable layoff. Employees learned that they were “on the list” when they arrived in their offices and there was an empty cardboard box on each desk. The boxex were for their personal possessions as they left the building.

There are things that companies should do to protect themselves, but I don’t want to dwell on company protection in that sense. I want to talk about the human factors involved.

Termination for whatever reason dehumanizes the individual. The example I used above just exacerbates the dehumanization, but the process does not need to be that way.

Most of us like our co-workers and subordinates. A termination might happen because an individual just may not be working out for some reason, or perhaps we are overstaffed and need to slim down. Either way, it is generally a decision made without malice.

When we terminate someone, the conversation needs to go very quickly to the matter at hand. Talking to the person about family, golf game, weekend plans, or anything else personal for 15 minutes before the actual words are spoken is cold. It may make you feel better or more comfortable but it is not appropriate. Get right to the point.

Having done that, there is no need to further tear down the person’s ego. You have just ended your business relationship but there is no reason to be cruel about it. The conversation should move over to other things — notably, the person’s strong points. Be careful here not to build the person up too much — this might raise curiosity as to why the person is being terminated — but everyone has some good traits that can be mentioned here.

If there is a suspicion that the termination might be messy, by all means bring in a witness — usually someone senior to you or, in rare cases, legal counsel. I have been involved in employee terminations for my entire career. I only once had a witness present during a termination interview. I would tell you it is a strategy that is overused, but it might make up for your reluctance or reticence to “do the deed” alone.

Then to the final point: never on Friday.

Once we have made the decision to terminate a person, we have to worry about the person as an individual. A Friday termination will give the person all weekend to think about the company and all the bad things it did to him or her. This is when the employee tends to self-destruct.

Terminations earlier in the week give a positive spin to everyone. The now ex-employee has a chance to apply for unemployment benefits, to prepare a résumé, and perhaps even go on an interview or two. A Friday termination affords none of these opportunities and can lead to bitterness and depression.

I have put together a little checklist of things you should know or do as part of the termination process.

  • Never on Friday. Termination is best done earlier in the week — preferably on a Monday or Tuesday.
  • Understand the company COBRA benefits and any other compensation issues involved.
  • Have a paycheck ready for pay earned but not received (required within 48 hours under Vermont law anyway) and accrued vacation or paid time off.
  • Consider some form of severance pay and be as generous as you can (this does not have to be paid within 48 hours and can be paid at your will).
  • Have a witness if you think it is necessary.
  • Get right to the point.
  • Be kind.
  • Have someone turn off all of the employee’s computer access while the conversation is going on.
  • Pick up keys, credit cards, and other company property. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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