Is there a ‘best’ way fire someone?

Jackie Hudson, ourHRpeople’s Director for Hampshire East has terminated so many contracts that she and a colleague were once known as ‘grim’ and ‘grimmer’.

We had a chat with Jackie to find out the best way to let someone go.

ourHRpeople: What is the difference between making someone redundant and firing them?

JH: Redundancies are through no fault of the individual.  If someone is ‘fired’ it is due to  either capability or misconduct.  If, having progressed through a performance improvement plan (PIP) or having received help with training etc., and there is no change, then the scenario is very different.

ourHRpeople: What is your firing / redundancy history?

JH: I have managed three major redundancy programmes and have also been on the receiving end of redundancy.  No matter what the reason, there often remains the feeling ‘why me’?  Even when it is a whole team or an entire business – that feeling does not go away.

In a previous role, a colleague and I shared the responsibility of letting people go, and became known colloquially as the “black cloak wearers” – a reference to the grim reaper. Eventually we became known as ‘Grim’ and ‘Grimmer’.

I have two distinct memories which both linger.  The first was almost 10 years ago and cost savings had to be made.  I had to run one of the redundancy pools.  I met an amazing and talented employee who found himself in the selection pool.  He had a young son – the same age as my son at the time – around eight years old.  The time of year was coming up to Christmas.  The employee was in tears and said that his young son had come up to him the night before the consultation meeting and said “never mind dad – I understand that if you lose your job you won’t be able to buy me presents for Christmas”.  I had tears in my eyes as well.  After a very hard and long day, I flew back home where my own eight year old son launched at me saying “where’s my present?”  Whenever I had been away from home, I had always bought the children a little something from the airport.  All the angst of the day came out and I shouted at my son, telling him the story of the employee and his boy and saying how lucky (and ungrateful) my son was.  I will never forget that time but still don’t think my son had any idea of the effect his innocent question had on me.

The other was the redundancy and closure of our business and having to make my team redundant.  Having built my team up from scratch over many years, nothing prepares you for having to go through that.  You never know how employees are going to deal with the situation and that can (and does) really affect you as well.  I wouldn’t wish that task on my worst enemy, it felt truly dreadful.

ourHRpeople:  What is the best way to handle firing people or making them redundant?

JH: You have to remain professional and try not to let their emotions affect you.  It doesn’t always work though.  Try to be as kind as possible and empathetic.  End on as much of a positive note as the situation allows.  My colleague always managed to end the termination meeting with a hug and the employee thanking her for being so sensitive to the situation.  Make sure you have access to a very large glass of wine when you get home!

My top tips for handling the situation are:

  1. You should always hold face to face meetings (which during this pandemic is unfortunately virtually impossible to do).
  2. Never act without warning. Even if the employee does not have service, losing their job should never come as a total surprise.
  3. Always make sure you follow correct procedure.  The employee should be accompanied if they wish.  If they choose not to then make sure you have a note taker in the room.
  4. Don’t make the conversation longer than it needs to be. There is no benefit in trying to deliver a ‘sh!t sandwich’ as we  sometimes refer to a conversation where people try too hard to make it sound better than it is.
  5. Try to be as kind as possible.  Try to end the meeting on a positive note – maybe talk about the next chapter in their lives.
  6. Make sure that IT access is removed – you don’t want a disgruntled employee emailing the world!
  7. Respect their dignity. Take a break if necessary.
  8. Always bring tissues!

ourHRpeople: Can you fire someone and still stay friends?

JH: Ultimately the employee usually knows it is not your fault or decision.  You are the messenger who often gets shot.  Once the dust has settled, never fear making contact.  I have many friends that I have had to terminate employment in one form or other.  

ourHRpeople: What do you do when you bump into someone that you once fired?

JH: Be cheerful.  Ask how they are.  Don’t avoid them or it makes it worse!

ourHRpeople: How can you bounce back from redundancy and learn from it?

JH: When one door closes another always opens.  Remember the last time it happened to you and how you recovered from it.  Keep telling yourself that it is an opportunity.  During redundancy consultations, when you have to hand out the sad news that the redundancy has been confirmed – maybe talk about your own experiences.  Humanise it for others.

ourHRpeople: What’s your advice for those who have just been fired?

JH: Take time out.  Re-evaluate things.  Maybe consider something that you wouldn’t have considered if you hadn’t lost your job.  If it is redundancy – it is not your fault so don’t beat yourself up about it.

Jackie took her own advice after facing redundancy and looked at what she really wanted to do next. She wanted to be her own boss and earn great money – which is why she joined ourHRpeople.

Check out Jackie’s story [link] and get in touch with alix@ourhrpeople if you are looking for your next step.

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