Saying Goodbye

Okay. You have an employee that you have to let go. It might be a performance issue, it might be a layoff, it might be because they peed on your shoes. No matter the reason, they’ve got to go. And, like anything else in business, there’s a process.

1. Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. You’re not making it better for anyone. It’s even money that your employee knows that they’re on the chopping block; prolonging it is nothing but unkind.

2. So you let your employee go. Eventually, they’ll get another job, most likely in the same industry. That means they’re going to go work for one of your competitors. And if their dismissal isn’t amicable - or even if it is - the thing that will help them the most when moving into that new job is to take as much of your organization’s information with them as possible. Especially if they are leaving you under their own power, rather than being let go.

To prevent this, immediately after you meet with your employee for the last time (or, even better, while they are meeting with you), have an IT guy remove their access to EVERYTHING. No company that I’ve ever worked for has done this. In one case, my access to company applications and databases was still active two years after I left the company. Are you happy to share your customer lists and processes with your competitors? Then cut them off!

Remember: IT guys are never in a hurry to do anything, so make sure that they understand how crucial the timing of this task is, and follow up immediately to make sure that they got it done.*

* Yes, that’s a stereotype. That doesn’t make it any less true.

2a. Supervise the employee cleaning out their desk, or have someone else do it. If it seems cruel and demeaning to you, let them go at the end of the day and do it then. If you don’t, your Customer list is going to end up on a flash drive in your departing employee’s pocket, along with a few software applications, files, and their key card and corporate credit card. And when you make sure their access is cut off, don’t forget email!

Have I mentioned that you should have a checklist? You should have a checklist.

3. If the parting is through no fault on the employee’s part, make sure that you provide severance pay (if you are able). One week’s pay for each year of service is traditional. Why? Because unemployment doesn’t pay squat, and having a little extra money to cover the transition while your ex-employee figures this out will help get them through the period when they can’t even really believe that they no longer have a job.

Remember, people who lose a job go through the same seven stages of grief as those with any other type of loss:
  • Shock or Disbelief 
  • Denial 
  • Anger 
  • Bargaining 
  • Guilt 
  • Depression 
  • Acceptance 

A little extra cash may get them all the way to anger. Okay, admittedly not the best landing point, but at least it’s three steps along on the road to acceptance and, hopefully, another job.

4. Help them figure out how to file for unemployment compensation. They’re going to do it anyway; the least you can do is make the whole thing less painful. If you plan to contest their claim, tell them that right up front. Even if they embezzled money, you should still... well, wait a minute. Scratch that. If they stole money from you, shoot the bastards. But if they only did a poor job, chances are they’ll mess up all of the unemployment forms, too, and only come crying to you later about how terrible their life has become since you let them go. Save yourself the discomfort: contact your local unemployment office and see if they have any handy pamphlets that explain the claim and filing process. If they don’t, create one internally. Believe me, you’ll thank me later.

5. 401k’s. As of this writing, I have 4 or 5 of these floating around. I get Christmas cards from them every year, little notes telling me how they’re doing, but I have no idea how to combine them or why I shouldn’t cash them in while I’m unemployed or how to roll them into my next employer’s plan. See if your 401k vendor has a handy pamphlet for this, too. If not, create one, and give it to every employee that comes aboard and every one that disembarks.

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