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core choices consulting
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© 2010 Core Choices Consulting / Greg Fall.  All rights reserved.  No reproduction without permission.

Managing Involuntary Employee Separations 
by Greg Fall

Employee separations are among the most difficult responsibilities of an HR or line manager. Protecting the interests of both the organization and the impacted individual are not mutually exclusive, however. Whether a single termination for cause or multiple position eliminations due to downsizing or reorganization, choosing to follow a few, simple guidelines can make the process more effective and less impactful for all involved.

Make a Plan
While notification day almost never goes according to plan, preparing for as many contingencies as possible, providing the right pre-event training and guidance, and conducting post-event follow up with all parties makes a huge difference. Consider all issues, from safety to preserving dignity to EAP and outplacement involvement, in order to give your organization every advantage for success. Involve one or two other trusted colleagues or advisors in the process to insure all angles have been covered.

Prepare and Train for all Reactions
When I train supervisors who will be conducting notification meetings and managers who are responsible for the post-event healing of remaining employees, I am often struck by the lack of appreciation for the human side of business. Even as professionals, we all have emotions which, for moments in time, may be out of our control. Anxiety, fear, anger, revenge, frustration, hurt, sadness, and guilt are common in the aftermath of an employee separation. Help your managers help themselves and their employees make better emotional choices. Provide training, lead confidential planning discussions, and check-in with managers on a regular basis.

Maintain Dignity at all Costs
This may be the most important of all guidelines in looking after both the organization and the employee. Allowing the impacted employee to maintain their dignity is central to helping them cope with the immediate trauma and begin the grieving and healing process. I submit that it is a basic human right to be treated with dignity at all times

If the employee is leaving that day, are you going to allow them to say “goodbye” to co-workers on their own? If they are leaving in several weeks or months, are you going to allow them to craft and disseminate their own message/explanation for why they are leaving? (with approval of management, of course) How are you going to react when they become emotional? Are the right individuals conducting the notification meeting? These and many other questions need to be answered as part of the planning process in order to allow the exiting employee to maintain their dignity.

Get your Messaging Right
The message in the notification meeting must be clear, consistent, and presented in both verbal and written form. While the impacted individual should be allowed to express themselves, this is not a discussion. Consider the importance of body language and non-verbal cues – over 80% of how spoken messages are communicated relates directly back to sub-verbal and non-verbal origination.  Also remember that, as soon as you give the impacted employee the news of their pending departure, their ability to listen will be altered instantly and dramatically. 

Messaging throughout the organization must flow from the top down. Messaging must be clear and consistent in order to maintain workforce focus and productivity; even slight differences in a supervisor’s interpretation of the event to their peers and direct reports will torpedo the credibility of both that leader and the organization in the eyes of the remaining employees. 

Consider Everyone Impacted
Of course, the exit/notification meeting itself needs to be 100% focused on the impacted employee.  But what about the impact on the employee’s manager, peers, direct reports, or other department employees? What about the impact on senior management and HR? What about the impact on you? Address the impact to all parties in your plan and follow up during the weeks after notification day. 

Insure Access to the Compassionate Core
Compassion, often via empathy, is an appropriate and powerful component of successful involuntary separations. While you should never apologize, state that “I am sorry,” or “I know how you feel,” the expression of genuine caring for a person and their well-being can make a huge difference. Too often we tend to de-humanize HR and the conducting of business. Make sure you actively care for everyone, including yourself, during this difficult process. It is your responsibility.