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Opinion Editorials

The complete guide to terminating an employee, remaining human, and protecting your company

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employee terminations are never a pleasant task, but they are a necessary one.

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young lady phone google fired

It’s part of the job

Let’s face it: no one likes firing an employee, but we all know that it has to be done when the circumstances call for it. When that time comes, how do we do so effectively and in a way that preserves both the integrity and safety of the company with the dignity of the soon-to-be former employee?

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Make your case

Before you consider terminating an employee, study up. Make certain that you’re familiar with your employee handbook, your company policies, and applicable employment laws. This isn’t an act that you should do alone if you can avoid doing so. Reviewing your firm’s employment policies and their interaction with federal, state, and local laws with a qualified employment lawyer and/or your human resources staff can save you much time and heartache down the road.

While D.L. Roth may have once said, “You know you’ve made it when you can spell subpoena without thinking about it,” protracted battles with ex-employees can be expensive and time-consuming. This is true even of at-will employees in right-to-work states, such as Texas. An at-will employee is one whose employment can be ended for any reason, or no reason, as long as it is not an illegal reason.

Age discrimination? Yep, illegal reason. Gender discrimination? Same story, unless gender is a Bona-Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). Terminated for absenteeism during a USERRA or FMLA leave? Probably, but many shades of grey exist there. Even the prima facie appearance of a termination decision based on a prohibited reason can be time consuming to defend against.

So, does this mean that you should avoid terminating any employees who may fall into a protected class? Not at all.

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After the review of your company policies, review the employee’s disciplinary history. The documentation that exists in their employee file will be the basis for which you make your decision for which you can defend yourself, if the need arises.

You’re looking for the point where the employee’s behavior or lack of performance have run afoul of company policy and can cite that violation of expected standards to them as a way to defend your decision.

In law school, there’s a way of thinking about cases popularly known as the “IRAC” method: Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion. You can apply that here: the employee’s behavior is the issue, and the company policy is the rule, with application and conclusion being next steps in the termination process.

Documentation is king

If policy changes or ongoing employee performance problems haven’t been documented in writing, consider whether or not now is the right time to terminate the employee. It’s an old maxim — without documentation, it didn’t happen. If you or your front-line managers aren’t in the habit of documenting employee discipline and performance concerns in a timely fashion, you need to address that first.

It doesn’t look good if you’re making the claim that your employee has had Problem X for the past six months, but all of the disciplinary documentation you’ve provided them is from only the past week, in a last minute effort to throw together something. It’s better to take a step back and clean up your processes first. This is also a good point to review what remediation steps you’ve offered an employee to improve their performance, especially if the problem is an ongoing one.

Remember, you’re not just taking care of a performance or behavior issue at your office. You’re also gravely impacting the entirety of someone’s life and livelihood.

That gravity doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t act, but it does mean that you need to be fair and just throughout the process.

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State your case

Once a review of company policy, the employee’s performance and behavioral history, and any remediative steps have justified the decision to terminate employment, it’s time to schedule the meeting. If your company has an HR business partner, have them there; you’re doing the firing, though. It’s your decision, and HR is there to handle the exiting process for the employee, with the inevitable questions that will arise, as well as to serve as witness in case of litigation later.

Experts differ on whether people should be fired early in the week or late in the week, and whether or not the meeting should be held in your office or the employee’s private workspace, if they have one. In reality, these decisions vary by workspace. Take into account that you want to treat the employee with dignity and privacy as you transition.

The meeting should be direct and to the point; fifteen minutes is a long time when there’s only one message being delivered, and a prolonged conversation isn’t going to change anyone’s minds about the outcome.

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When the employee sits down, they well may wonder why HR is there as well. It’s best to acknowledge their presence in the room, and let the employee know that you’re all there today to review the status of their employment. When transitioning to the discussion of performance or behavior, be direct and clear about the types of problems that have occurred, the length of time, severity of the behaviors, and any remediative steps that have been provided. Doing so allows the employee to understand that you have been dealing with ongoing concerns for some time that have not improved, or that their behavior, even if only a one time occurrence, was so severe that you had to address it in this fashion.

After the review of performance, you’ve now got to tell the employee that, based on this behavior, or lack of improvement, their employment has been terminated, effective today.

Be prepared to experience a gamut of emotions from the employee: shock, anger, denial, disbelief, bargaining for another chance.

You may well be empathetic to the employee’s circumstance; I know that I’ve been when in this position. However, empathy aside, now is the time for what I refer to as “kind clarity”. You’re using precise language, so as not to confuse the employee or to give them the false impression that there’s another avenue at this point. While not belaboring the point of every violation of rules that they committed, you’re also remaining steadfast to their performance issues. It’s natural, when faced with a strong emotional reaction from the employee, to want to minimize the problems that existed that led to their termination.

While it’s tempting to want to console an upset employee, overly kind words that seem dismissive of their problem today may be used as evidence tomorrow. You can go into broken record mode when an employee disagrees with the decision: “I acknowledge your position, but the decision is final.” And, while it’s understandable that you’d possibly be emotional as well, don’t say that this decision is difficult for you. That’s not going to make anyone in the room feel better, most especially the now ex-employee.

Once the termination has been delivered, utilize the skills of your HR business partner, if possible, to answer the expected questions about benefits, pay, references, unemployment claims, etc. If your company is upscaling and doesn’t have a dedicated HR department, think about all of the questions that you would have in a similar circumstance, and be prepared to answer them.

Provide the employee with a point of contact for any questions or needs that come up after the meeting is ended, and make certain that that point of contact provides them with the same high level of customer service that you would expect for any employee.

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Transition forward

At the conclusion of the meeting, escort your former employee to pick up their essential belongings and then directly off property. Even for employees for whom there is no expected risk of becoming violent or disruptive in the workplace, you want to protect your team against any unnecessary distraction of a visibly upset colleague who may have been popular among them.

For employees who have a large amount of personal property, allowing them to come back after hours when you or your HR partner can observe them packing is kinder than asking them to do it in front of an audience of their former colleagues. You’ll also want to provide notice of the termination to your IT department to have e-mail and other proprietary technology shut off at the time of termination. This avoids the risk of the former employee sending out any messaging that would be harmful to the company as a “parting gift”.

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After the employee has been terminated, the work goes on. You’ll want to maintain the employee’s privacy and confidentiality as you transition their projects to other team members and, eventually, interview for their replacement. Maintaining the same levels of empathy and reassurance with them as they transition without their co-worker, as well as rolling up your sleeves to take on some of the additional workload if necessary, will ensure that the mission goes forward.

#FireRight

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Opinion Editorials

10 tips for anyone looking to up their professional game

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s easy to get bogged down by the details, procrastinate, and feel unproductive. Here are a few tips to help you stay on track and crush your professional goals.

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Self-reflection is critical to a growth mindset, which you must have if you want to grow and improve. If you are ready to take your professional game to the next level, here are some stories and tips to help you remain focused on killing your goals.

1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, as the quote goes. And, in the workplace it’s bound to make you second guess yourself and your abilities. This story explains when comparison can be useful, when to avoid it, and how to change your focus if it’s sucking the life out of you.

2. Burnout is real and the harder you work, the less productive you are. It’s an inverse relationship. But, there are ways to work smarter and have better life balance. Here are some tips to prioritize your workload and find more ease.

3. Stop procrastinating and start getting sh@t done. The reason we procrastinate may be less about not wanting to do something and more about the emotions underlying the task. Ready to get going and stop hemming and hawing, you got this and here’s the way to push through.

4. Perfection is impossible and if you seek this in your work and life, it’s likely you are very frustrated. Let that desire go and learn to be happy with excellence over perfection.

5. If you think you’re really awesome and seriously deserve more money, more responsibility, more of anything and are ready to drop the knowledge on your supervisor or boss, you may want to check this story out to see if your spinning in the right direction.

6. Technology makes it so easy to get answers so quickly, it’s hard to wait around for things to happen. We like instant gratification. Yet, that is another reason procrastination is a problem for some of us, but every person has a different way/reason for procrastinating. Learn what’s up with that.

7. Making choices can be a challenge for some of us (me included) who worry we are making the wrong choice. If you’ve ever struggled with decision making, you know it can be paralyzing and then you either make no decision or choose the safest option. What we have here is the Ambiguity Effect and it can be a real time suck. Kick ambiguity to the curb.

8. If you are having trouble interacting with colleagues or wondering why you don’t hear back from contacts it could be you are creeping folks out unintentionally (we hope). Here’s how to #belesscreepy.

9. In the social media era building your brand and marketing are critical, yet, if you’re posting to the usual suspects and seeing very little engagement, you’ve got a problem. Wharton Business School even did a study on how to fix the situation and be more shareable.

10. Every time you do a presentation that one co-worker butts in and calls you out. Dang. If you aren’t earning respect on the job, you will be limited in your ability to get to the next level. Respect is critical to any leadership position, as well as to making a difference in any role you may have within an organization, but actions can be misconstrued. There are ways to take what may be negative situations and use them to your advantage, building mutual respect.

You have the tools you need, now get out there, work hard, play hard and make sh*t happen. Oh, and remember, growth requires continual reflection and action, but you got this.

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Opinion Editorials

Why soft skills are even more essential in online era

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Since many of us aren’t seeing our co-workers in person these days, our soft skills are even more important in the online working space.

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Skype video chat with person writing in notebook. Soft skills are critical online.

When did we start thinking of “soft” as bad? I mean, we’ve got soft serve (excellent), softball (good exercise), fabric soft-ener (another industry I’m enjoying killing as a millennial). And we’ve got soft skills.

Or at least… I hope we do.

The shift to non-optional remote working has been difficult for a lot of us, especially for everyone who forgets to press mute before making sure the kids behave. But it’ll take more than being hot-mic savvy to make it through the foreseeable future. Brush up on these soft skills while we’re waiting on a vaccine, and it’ll make the coming months (years?) much easier.

1. Tone mastery

Do you know the difference between “Hey, Brenda, can we have a 1:1 at 12:30pm to go over the laser-equipped yoga pants presentation details?” and “Brenda, we need to talk…”?

If not, you might not have a great grasp on how to say with your typey-words what you can no longer say with your facial expressions. You don’t need to throw an emoji or exclamation point into every sentence to get your points across, but you do have the power to keep your coworkers’ heart rates in a safe range by explaining what exactly you need from them in your initial messages.

Use that power wisely.

2. Checking in

There’s no water cooler talk if there’s no water cooler, right?

Making and maintaining connections is more important now than ever, natural introversion be damned. You wanna be a star, don’tcha? Keep up relationships with public shoutouts, inquiries, and reaction images, and you’ll keep up morale while maintaining and boosting your potential for growth in the company.

Even if you’re not a small-talk kind of person, just a drop in for updates, meeting minutes, or sharing a relevant article via appropriate chatrooms and DMs can help hone your soft skills.

“Karen, this MLM article reminded me of your anti-Scentsy tangent you forgot we could all hear, maybe send this to your pushy ex-friend.”

“Hey, Ravindra, how’s the new laptop working out? All good? No ‘Kill all Humans’ protocols like the last one?”

Simple blips like this can add up like couch change. If you’re an admin, make a general chats section, and work in enough time in meetings to allow everyone to have a bit of a chat before getting down to business.

3. Make yourself available

This was important before the pandemic, honestly, but it bears repeating now, especially for everyone in a leadership position. If you’re not making time for check-ins, constantly cancelling meetings, or just generally enjoying being gone when people need you…figure out a way to not. Delegate what you can, bring on a VA, shorten that vacation, whatever you have to do. Everyone’s struggling, and being captain means your crew is looking to you. Don’t let the general air of desperation lull you into thinking a metaphorical keelhauling is out of the question—that extra power still comes with extra responsibility.

Keep yourself from double-bookings, cancellations, and absences as much as possible, and things will continue to improve internally… Even if they don’t in the outside world.

Aesop had a fable about an oak tree and a little river reed. When a storm came, the hardened oak tree fell and died, while the flexible reed bent with the wind and lived. We’re in the storm now, and everyone’s doing their best not to break. Keep yourself rooted friends, but the moral here is to soften up.

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Opinion Editorials

Before you quit your job, ask yourself these 5 questions

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Frustrated at work? Here are 5 ideas utilizing design thinking and exploration tactics to assess if you really are ready to quit your job.

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Man reclining on beanbag with laptop, thoughtful. Considering tactics before you quit your job.

We have all been there. We are in a job that just doesn’t feel right for us. Maybe we strongly dislike our manager or even our day to day work responsibilities. We find it easy to blame everyone else for everything we dislike. We question life and ask “Is this what life is all about? Shouldn’t I be spending my time doing something I am more passionate about?” But, we probably like the regular paycheck… Thus, we stay there and possibly become more miserable by the day. Some of us may even start to feel physical symptoms of headaches, stomach aches, and possibly depression. We also may go to the internet like this person seeking answers and hoping someone else can tell us what to do:

“I feel conflicted but I want to quit my job. What should I do?

I was thinking of quitting my job because I dislike what I do, and I feel I am underpaid.

However last week my colleague tendered her resignation too. Needless to say, if I leave too, my whole department will fall into a larger mess and that causes some feelings of conflict within me.

Should my colleague quitting affect when I want to leave too? How do I go about quitting now?”

We can definitely empathize with this – it’s really uncomfortable, sometimes sad, and hard to be in a position where we feel we are underpaid and we aren’t happy.

So, how can you navigate a situation like this? How do you figure out if you should just quit your job? How can you be an adult about this?

Here are some exploratory questions, ideas, and some design thinking activities to help you answer this question for yourself.

  • Before you up and quit, assuming you don’t yet have your next opportunity lined up, have you considered asking for a raise – or better yet, figure out how you add value to the organization? Would your supervisor be willing to move you in to a new role or offer additional compensation?
  • If you don’t have a job lined up, do you have the recommended AT LEAST six months of living expenses in your savings account? Some would recommend that you have even more during a global pandemic where unemployment is at an all-time high – it may take longer to find a new position.
  • Do you have a safety net of family or friends that are willing and able to help you with your bills if you don’t have your regular paycheck? Would you be willing to put that burden on them so you can quit your job?
  • Why aren’t you job searching if you are unhappy? Is it because the task seems daunting and the idea of interviewing right now makes you want to puke?
  • What would your ideal job be and what would it take for you to go for it?

Many people claim they don’t like their job but they don’t know what to do next or even worse, don’t know what they WANT to do. To offer a little bit of tough love here: Well, then, that’s your job to figure it out. You can go on Reddit all you want, but no one else can tell you what is right for you.

Here are some ways to explore what may be an exciting career move for you or help you identify some areas that you need to learn more about in order to figure out where work will align with your skills, interests, and passions.

  1. Consider ordering the Design Your Life Workbook that provides writing prompts to help you figure out what it is that you are looking for in a job/career. You may also like the book Designing Your Work Life which is about “How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work”.
  2. Utilize design thinking to answer some of your questions. Make a diamond shape and in each of the four corners, write out the “Who” you want to be working with, “What” you’d like to be doing, “Where” you’d like to be, and “Why” you want to be there or doing that kind of work.
  3. Conduct informational interviews with people doing work that you think you might be interested in. Usually these conversations give you lots of interesting insights and either a green light to pursue something or validation that maybe that role isn’t right for you either.
  4. Get your resume updated. Sometimes just dusting off your resume, updating it, and making it ready gives you a feeling of relief that if you did really want to pursue a new job, you are almost ready. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile as well.
  5. Explore what you can do differently. A lot of what we can be frustrated about can be related to things out of our control. Consider exploring ways to work better with your team or how to grow to become invaluable. Tune in to Lindsey Pollak’s podcast, The Work Remix, where she gives great ideas on how to navigate working in current times where there are five generations in the workplace. There may be ways you need to adjust your communication style or tune in to emotional intelligence on how to better work with your supervisor or employees. Again, focus on what is within your control.

You may decide that you need to quit your job to be able to focus your energy on finding a better fit for you. But at the same time, be realistic. Most of us have to work to live. Everyone has bills, so you may continue working while you sort out some of the other factors to help you find a more exciting prospect. Either way, wishing you all the best on this journey, and the time and patience to allow you to figure it out.

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