Office dilemma: The golden rules for sacking staff

The experience is never pleasant, but there are ways to soften the blow

IT TURNED out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” Steve Jobs once remarked. Unfortunately, not all employees will put Jobs’ positive spin on getting the sack. And the experience is little better for the bearer of the bad news. Not doing it via text or KPMG-style (in 2001, the company emailed 700 staff with the news they would be made redundant) are two of the more obvious firing faux pas. But here are four golden rules for keeping it as pain-free as possible.

The only thing worse than firing an employee who’s underperforming? Holding onto someone who’s not pulling their weight – it will make your staff think that sort of behaviour is acceptable. President George W Bush waited years to fire defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld – thus projecting an image of indecision. “The way you handle this decision reflects the kind of leader you are,” says Breakthrough Entrepreneurship author Bill Murphy. So don’t delay.

That said, sacking someone should be part of a bigger review process. If the dismissal is for poor performance, Carl Greenberg of Pragmatic HR recommends giving an employee around four weeks from warning to firing – so they have a real chance to improve. If it’s due to reorganisation, give employees a reasonable fair warning.

And fight the urge to palm the task off on the HR department. While it is sensible to seek their advice, the direct supervisor should be the one to deliver the news. However, it is wise to have a witness present for liability purposes.

Experts agree that the meeting should be relatively short (around 10 to 30 minutes). Lord Sugar’s approach may be a tad curt, but it’s important to “keep it professional,” says Ian Gooden of Chiumento Consultancy Group. The employee will inevitably display a range of emotions, but stay objective. As Likeable Media’s Dave Kerpen recently told Inc, “You can be kind, yet firm, from the start when you say ‘it’s over.’”

While the story of the Wisconsin nurse who was pulled out of surgery to be fired on the spot is an extreme example, there is usually no reason for the employee to hang around. Let them leave, and schedule a time for them to come back and get their things. Allowing them to stay will poison the atmosphere among the rest of the workforce.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing like a dramatic discharge to get people talking. So speak to your remaining staff afterwards – it will prevent the rumour mill from spinning.

According to the experts, you should never fire someone on a Friday, as “they can stew about it over the weekend and come into work the following Monday ready for a fight,” author Cliff Ennico told Monday morning is best – it will help the employee quickly shift from working for you to applying for other jobs.

Apps to soothe workplace stress
Pranayama Lite
Wound up at work? Even practising slow breathing for only 15 minutes a day can reduce stress and stress-related illness. And Pranayama’s guide to deep breathing enables users to choose from a variety of music, sounds and animations to coach them through a few minutes (up to 60) of inhaling and exhaling. The free version offers two breathing schemes, with five options for the length of breathing within each scheme. You can also log your sessions to keep track of your progress.