As a rule, working in HR can be a very rewarding experience filled with lots of good news, but there is one area that is markedly NOT fun – terminations. Let’s set the stage: Word has come down from the executive committee that the company is restructuring and you are going to be coordinating with the department manager for the next round of layoffs. Eeeek!
To start, let’s answer one question: Should the job of terminations be given to the managers of each department, or should HR still be the bearer of bad news? This is a topic that is debatable for many companies still, but it seems that the cards fall on both sides of the table. Some companies allow their managers to take the load of terminations, while others rely heavily on HR for the termination process. Either way, as an active participant in the terminations whether that is behind the scenes or sitting across from the soon-to-be terminated employees, terminations are never easy. Before you know it, your stress level has gone through the roof and the caring person in you immediately starts thinking about the people you are letting go. You may think about the families these people support or how someone may take this news very poorly, or all the paperwork that is going to be involved. Wherever your mind goes, it is unavoidably a stressful topic to think about. Henna Inam recently shared a few steps in her Forbes article that may make the process just a little bit simpler. Whoever is breaking the news, we’ve recapped the tips here for you:
Clarify the Goals of the Restructure
Be sure to get a few minutes with the leadership team and understand why the decision was made. Most importantly, make sure you identify talking points. These points should answer the question of why this person is being laid off and what’s next for the company.
Prepare for the Conversation
Now that you are armed with your talking points, run through what you are going to say. If you can, grab a mentor, boss or coach and role-play the conversation. By running through it a few times you will be able to visualize the desirable outcome and avoid flubbing your words in the actual meeting.
Not sleeping the night before a termination, or going into the meeting flustered and stressed out is only going to make it harder on all parties involved. Go to bed early and clear your calendar a few minutes before the meeting. Do some deep breathing exercises to calm your nerves and allow you to be present in the moment. This will help you deliver the message clearly and with proper compassion for how this conversation is going to impact the other party.
Remember your Body Language
You’ve prepared a concise message for this individual; don’t let your body language undermine the work you’ve already committed to this! Sit up straight, with your shoulders back. Maintain eye contact and keep your posture open. This will exude confidence and compassion.
Listen and Mirror
The news you have just delivered is going to elicit some reaction. Be sure you are tuned in to the person. This is the time to allow the employee the space to have a reaction. It may be helpful to mirror back to the employee what you are observing by saying “I see you are frustrated” or “I see you’re surprised,” You are not going to solve this problem for them, but you can be supportive of them while they process the news.
Reflect and Learn
After it is over, take time to reflect on the conversation. Identify things that went well and things you could improve on. Perhaps you let your body language go as the conversation went on or you didn’t allow yourself enough time before the meeting to get centered. Maybe you can celebrate that you had your talking points so well organized that you could effectively answer the questions asked. Make notes on these things and remember them for next time. (Hopefully there won’t be a next time – but this is what managing people is all about, and we always have to prepare for next time!)
Terminations are never going to be a “walk in the park”, but using these steps will certainly make the meeting go a little more smoothly for you.