employee termination

Employee termination has always been a tricky issue and when you’re forced to do it in the middle of a pandemic, it gets more challenging.

After all, how do you tell someone they’re being laid off for no fault of their own?

This is a situation most companies have found themselves in, in the last few months. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a loss of lives but it has also stripped many of their livelihoods. 

As a business, if you’ve decided to terminate employees in an attempt to cut costs, you must treat the matter with the utmost care and professionalism. 

Here are five factors you should consider to professionally manage the employee termination process due to COVID-19.

Prepare a script

Regardless of whether you have experience with employee terminations, this time it’s different. It isn’t related to their performance review as much as to cut costs and keep your business afloat.

This is why it’s important to prepare a script or some concrete talking points. Different people will react differently to this news. So, it’s advisable to anticipate varied scenarios and prepare your response accordingly. 

The idea isn’t to read out the script and sound robotic but to ensure you handle the conversation delicately and avoid getting derailed.

Do a 1:1 video call

Electric scooter rental start-up, Bird, laid off over 400 employees over a 2-minute Zoom call. Employees were invited to a one-way Zoom call where a “robotic-sounding, disembodied voice” delivered the news to them.

This is an example of an employee termination process gone wrong. 

In normal circumstances, you would be having separation meetings face-to-face. With most companies working remotely, this isn’t possible. However, that doesn’t mean you should do it over an audio call or a team meeting.

The most effective way to break the news is by doing a one-on-one video conferencing call. This is the closest you can get to retaining the personal touch and humanizing the process. 

In addition to what you say, pay special attention to your facial expressions and body language. You don’t want to appear distant, detached, and unmoved.

Maintain honesty and transparency

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is trying to beat around the bush or sugarcoating the news. Let’s face it: there’s nothing you can say to make your employees feel better.

The key is to be honest and transparent about the decision. Be open about the tough business decision the company is having to take.

This is more likely to make them feel like they are being treated with respect and dignity. 

Founder of the leadership consultancy Cabral Co., Amber Cabral says, “Find the empathy to communicate how much employees are valued,” she advises, “and that the job impacts due to COVID-19 are not an indicator of their personal performance, but instead a sign of the times.”

After the separation meeting, you will need to send a termination letter to the employee. So, create a letterhead to draft the termination letter. Make sure your conversation is in line with the official reasoning you mention in the letter to avoid legal implications.

Listen more, talk less

You’ve delivered the news but it’s not over yet. Give the employee some time to process what they’ve just heard and ask them if they have any questions. Don’t be in a rush to wrap up the meeting unless they’re ready to move on.

Be patient and listen to what they have to say. While some might react angrily, there will be others who might get emotional. What’s important is acknowledging their pain and paying attention to what they have to say.

As you’re probably going to be delivering the news over a video call, be sure to make eye contact, nod your head or respond to them, making them feel like they are being heard.

Avoid making statements along the lines of: “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise”, “At least you’re not alone”, “Be grateful for what you have”, “You’re going to be fine”, etc. because they are likely to do more harm than good.

Outline next steps

There will be several questions running through the employee’s mind, such as how will they make money, what will happen to their career, how will they justify this termination, etc. 

So, before ending the call, it’s important to outline the next steps and complete certain formalities.

You should inform the employee about:

  • Final paycheck details
  • Severance package
  • Healthcare coverage 
  • Any benefits they’re eligible for
  • Arrange for the return of company property (eg. laptops, access cards, etc.)

While you should show support, avoid making any promises or giving false hope. Instead, you can offer to write a recommendation letter or refer them to your network. 

The takeaway: manage the employee termination process with compassion

An employee termination due to COVID-19 is a result of a business decision and that makes it harder to deal with. As an employer, you need to be extra cautious while managing the employee termination process from start to finish. 

These five factors will help you deliver the unfortunate news with compassion and empathy. 

Simki Dutta is a content marketer at Venngage, a free infographic maker and design platform. She writes about all things marketing and communications. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn

Employee termination stock photo by Freedomz/Shutterstock