Most managers will have to dismiss an employee at sometime in their career, but it's a subject most people don't like to talk about. Of course some sackings are acrimonious and if you're getting rid of someone for gross miscondunct you might not be so concerned about sparing their feelings. But if a new hire turns out to be a bad fit or a longstanding employee's performance has been on the slide then you probably want to make the process as pain-free as possible.
It's vital to follow the proper procedure, and document the fact that you've done so. If you're in a large company you should get HR involved before saying anything to the employee, and If you're running your own company, you should pick up the phone to an employment lawyer - especially if you've not dismissed anyone before. Employment law can be a bit of a minefield so do seek expert advice.
Do you need to sack them outright?
Obviously you need to be clear that dismissing the employee is the right way to go. If their output has been declining then you should give them a chance to improve, unless of course it's seriously detrimental to the business.
If you do think they should leave then think about whether you need to go all out and dismiss them – if it's really not working out then matters might resolve themselves. 'It becomes quite apparent to most people if you decide they don’t fit in the business, or they decide they don’t fit in the business - it’s very obvious to most parties,' says Jo Harley, MD of HR consultants Purple Cubed.
'Usually the person realises this about the same time as you do. It’s about having a conversation with them, asking 'are you happy here, is this the right place for you, can you see yourself having a future here?' Usually they come to the realisation that actually, ‘this isn’t really the right place for me'.'
What you need to prepare
Don't go into the room without knowing a few crucial things that are sure to come up. Obviously you need to plan roughly what it is you are going to say, including the reasons for dismissal and some specific examples of poor performance if appropriate.
'You should probably have planned a severance package or at least have made the calculations as to how much notice you will be paying them so they’re able to go away from that meeting having an understanding of what their financial pressures are and how long they’ve got to find a job,' says Lucy Gilmore, HR manager at PR firm PHA Media.
You also need to plan where you're going to do the deed – it's probably best to book a private room out, rather than telling them at the hammocks in the middle of your open plan office.
How to deliver the news
Don't dither, remain professional and stick to the facts. 'You really want to get to the point as soon as possible,' says Gilmore. 'You don’t want to bring somebody into a meeting having them feeling anxious while you talk around the subject because you don’t feel comfortable broaching it with them.'
'Always be really honest and never be vague,' adds Harley. 'Explain things clearly and with empathy, and don’t beat around the bush. Don’t sugarcoat it. If there’s something to be said, say it – but say it in an adult way.'
'My advice is always to stick to the facts,' says Allison Peasgood, a director at HR consultancy OMS. 'Don’t make it personal. Even if you’re dealing with their capability, present evidence that will back up your position so it becomes less about the person and more about the performance.'
You should also ask how they want to handle their departure – some will want to speak to colleagues before heading off but others will be keen for a speedy exit.
What to do after
If the employee's comfortable with it then you might consider offering to help them prepare for finding another job, says Gilmore. 'Offer to go through CVs, recruitment agencies and job hunting strategies,' she adds, and offer to give them a reference. 'You want to put them in the best possible position to go back out and feel confident attending interviews.' Apart from being a nice thing to do, it could also help protect your company's reputation by discouraging them from badmouthing you.
Bad news travels fast and it's also important to be aware of any office politics that might be simmering as a result of the dismissal. Be open with your staff about why the person is leaving and reassure them that they're not next.
Letting someone go is never a pleasant experience but with a bit of planning and sensitivity you can keep the fallout to a minimum.