3 Things to Tell Employees After Someone Was Fired
Managing Your Team After Someone is Fired
Think about the last time you experienced someone getting fired in the office. A peer, maybe a superior, or maybe you had to let go your own employee. Aside from obvious offenses like starting a fight in the office, berating a coworker or some other form of glaring misconduct in the workplace, the termination of an employee is always uncomfortable, for everyone involved. First off, what do you tell your other employees after someone is fired? How do you approach the topic in the first pace? In the days or even weeks that follow, many times the team or organization will struggle to adjust and move on. And whether you like it or not, how you as the manager or business leader handle the aftermath is a reflection of your leadership and management skills.
Firing, Not Layoffs
Now, for our discussion here, we are not referring to layoffs or general downsizing such as one that might occur in a down economy. We are talking about the involuntary termination of an employee in the official HR lingo, or as the rest of us say, firing someone. The distinction is important because unlike layoffs or downsizing, the sudden firing of an employee is almost always the result of an action or behavior that was outside the established rules of conduct established by the company. This might include things like tampering with company property, making racial or prejudicial remarks in the workplace, or simply getting another employee to do something through intimidation.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed and experienced people being fired enough times to know what there is a trend: upon word getting out that someone was let go, a cloud of concern and office rumors quickly fill the awkward silence. It’s human nature. And sure, people move on. In most cases, things will soon go back to normal after a few days or weeks. But there are number of reasons why managers should not just passively let things go back to normal, and should instead take a more proactive role in guiding the team through the experience.
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First, your employees are not robots or machines (even though you may like to pretend they are). They have emotions, they have feelings, and some of them may have even been friends outside of work with the employee you let go. People will wonder what happened, if they’re in jeopardy and will want to talk about it openly. How you handle the situation, and how swiftly you confront it, will either cost or score you more leadership points that will ultimately influence your ability to manage the team down the road.
Second, losing an employee is never easy and is always disruptive to the job at hand. The last thing you need is additional losses in productivity because people are left confused or afraid. Ambiguity surrounding the firing of an employee will leave other employees wondering what happened and will likely reduce their morale and productivity in the near term. As a result, the faster you can get things back on track and help the team press on, the better. To do so requires you take a proactive approach that will eliminate (or at least, reduce) the ambiguity and rumors.
Third, the trust employees have in you as a manager and the company overall depends on how well you handle the office environment immediately after an employee has been terminated. If an employee is fired and there is no explanation or information about the reasons, you leave the door open for employees to make up their own minds: “They didn’t really get along.” “If we don’t work weekends, we might get fired, too.” A cloud of secrecy does no one good – the employees, you as the manager or the company overall. Regardless of what happened with the employee, you need to retain the trust of other office personnel.
How to Lead After Someone Has Been Fired
So what should you do when someone has been fired? Here are 3 things you as the manager can do to help your team process the news and move on more effectively after an employee has been let go:
1. Take Time to Communicate
Our favorite management tool emerges once again. After an employee has been let go, call a quick meeting with the team. You do not need to go into unnecessary detail or initiate office gossip. But it’s important to discuss what happened – the circumstances and the black and white decision that led to the firing of the employee. Rely on and communicate the facts (and make sure you have them). If the individual violated a clearly stated code of conduct, explain it. Here’s a good approach: Rather than say ‘Bob no longer works here.’ Say something like ‘Bob no longer works here. Concerns were raised about his use of company funds for personal gain. After an investigation, it was evident the information was accurate and he was terminated for violating the company policy on such matters.’
2. Identify the Continuity Plan
We’ve all heard someone say something like this “How could they fire Mary, she was the only one who knew that account?!” People will already wonder why Mary was terminated. But they will also be concerned with who will have to pick up her workload until a replacement is found. As the manager, it’s important to quickly identify how the individual’s responsibilities will be absorbed into the organization. Perhaps you will want to divide and conquer the work across the team, maybe you will make Mary’s peer the focal point for her workload. Perhaps you as the manager assumer those responsibilities in the near term. Either way, be clear about priorities, points of contact and the overall plan forward.
3. Revisit Values and Conduct
For someone to be fired, the situation is almost never good. But if there is something positive to emerge from it, the termination of an employee offers a great opportunity to revisit your company values and policies. If the employee was let go due to violating your sexual harassment policy, have a refresher training or discussion with your team to ensure everyone is aware and familiar with your sexual harassment policy. If the employee abused the company credit card or violated your travel policy by expensing unauthorized charges, bring up your allowances on corporate travel and authorized expenses. Use the experience to teach and reiterate what is and is not permitted by your company. Depending on who was terminated, a simple reminder that policy is policy, regardless of one’s position or rank can go a long way.
So there you have it. Following the termination of an employee, be sure to take the time to confront and explain. You may not be able to suppress all rumor and concern, but even the smallest attempt will be help. Failure to do so will impact morale, productivity and your employee’s confidence and trust in you as the manager. Your willingness to engage with the team and help lead them through the confusion and concern will help you keep their focus and move on successfully as a team. A very simple three things you can do: communicate, direct and recap.
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