The act of dismissing someone is never as straightforward as you would hope. Obviously, something has gone wrong to get to that point, and the way you conduct the dismissal process can really make the difference in how the news is received. The key challenge is how to balance empathy and professionalism. I’ve managed large HR teams and I’ve always said you need to treat people in a very human way. If you stop doing that, you’re in the wrong job. But the balance can be very tricky.
Start by putting yourself in the shoes of the employee. What are they going to be most worried about? Someone going through a redundancy could worry about money, or it could be about taking the next step in their career. Make the meeting work for you by being well prepared with the answers to their questions. Maybe crunch the figures and calculate their redundancy pay; it might even be reassuring to tell them they’ll still get a reference after they’re let go.
If it’s a dismissal linked to a disciplinary, emotions can be difficult and the employee may well be angry. Remember it’s not personal to you – they are aggrieved with the company and you are its representative. It’s important to keep your emotions in check and remain in control of the situation. The employee could become abusive: if that happens, adjourn the meeting and advise it will recommence when they are able to conduct themselves professionally.
After concluding, you might want the employee to leave as soon as possible, but compassion is important. Allow them to stay in the meeting room and compose themselves. You need to avoid humiliating anyone: you don’t want them to be walked to their desk, gather their things and be publically seen out of the building. If they have immediate concerns like a bag or keys, allow them the time they need to collect these items, but be aware you can make arrangements for other possessions to be collected later.
HR always needs to maintain professionalism and courtesy in how staff are treated. Companies and their cultures can be badly affected by how they handle dismissals. Plan ahead. Don’t get into a situation where you have to think on your feet. Things won’t go according to plan, but you’ll be better off if you’ve got a broad idea of how to handle everything.
Sue Andrews is HR and business consultant for KIS Finance