People First HR Services

Compassion takes sting out of “You’re fired”

Colleen Coates

Perhaps you have heard the tale about getting a pink slip in with your paycheque as a way of finding out about your employment termination. This tale dates back to the early 1900s and I’ve yet to see an organization actually do this. However, a quick media search finds many stories where employees have been victims of deplorable actions by their employer. One such case was the U.S. convenience store chain owner who held a contest for employees to guess who would be fired next in order to win a cash prize. Another high-profile termination was that of Yahoo’s CEO Carol Bartz who was terminated over the telephone. Then there were the RadioShack Corp. employees who found out they were being let go when they received an email explaining that workforce reduction was being carried out and “unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated.”

The reality is losing your job can be a horrible and even devastating experience, but the good news is most employers are caring and realize terminations don’t have to be a dreadful experience, according to Eileen Kirton, regional vice-president of KWA Partners, leaders in career management services.

According to Kirton, there are several primary objectives to be achieved on the day of termination:

The employee should:

— Hear and understand the message. The person delivering the message needs to be straightforward with words such as, “I have a very difficult message to deliver. Your employment with ABC Company will end effective today.”

— Know the next steps. Ensure there is a plan in place to address activities such as gathering personal effects and how co-workers will be notified.

— Retain dignity and self-respect. Consider how to keep the meeting private and how departure from the building will be handled.

The employer also needs to ensure that:

— The departing employee leaves the premises and gets home safely.

— Legal and ethical responsibilities have been fulfilled.

— Remaining employees see departing co-worker treated respectfully.

— There is no impact to morale, and productivity is maintained.

— The organization’s internal and external reputation is preserved.

Ultimately, the organization should ensure the day of termination is thoughtfully planned and skilfully conducted to take the stress out of the situation, or at least minimize it, and lessen the risk to the organization. Kirton suggests an integrated approach to conducting employment terminations. This approach includes consideration for your employment brand (how you want to be perceived in the marketplace) and the work culture that you have or want to have in your organization (how you conduct the termination should align with your organizational beliefs and values), together with a caring approach so the organization can maintain control of the situation.

Other important aspects to consider are that every termination meeting should have not only the departing employee’s supervisor, but also the organization’s human resource representative or a second person in a leadership role. To complete the picture and help ensure a successful transition from the workplace, leading organizations include external career transition partners to help the employee manage through job loss and successfully move on to other employment opportunities.

Here are some additional tips employers should reflect on to ensure that the potentially painful experience of employment termination does not do unnecessary harm to the employee and to help prevent unwanted legal action against the employer:

— Consider carefully how, who and when you will carry out the termination. Anticipate the reactions of the employee and think about how you will respond to maintain calmness.

— Try to be flexible. Avoid sticking to a process “because that’s the way we do things here.” Each person and situation should be treated as unique and warrants thoughtful attention.

— Ask yourself, “What if it was my spouse, friend or even me?” How would you want to be treated? How would you feel if your spouse or friend were treated poorly?

Employers need to make many difficult decisions in business, and one of the most difficult is the termination of an employee. Experience shows that when employers combine civility, succinctness, and compassion with a dash of common sense, the organization is in the best possible position to avoid being ridiculed for poor HR practices and the employee is in a better position to begin focusing on moving forward.


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 H2

  • Karen Howard

    I know someone who got home from work on a Friday & there was a ROE in their mailbox. The ROE indicated “Dismissal”. He went into work on Monday & went straight into HR looking for an explanation. The HR Manager (who was very surprised to see him) said… “oh didn’t your Manager tell you last Wednesday”? Poor guy was devastated. This happened last year at a large Winnipeg manufacturing company. Terrible thing to do to someone.

    • Colleen Coates

      It always amazes me that there are still organizations out there who just don’t “get it”! Let’s hope someone taps them on the shoulder and shows them not only how to properly conduct terminations, but all the reasons why it is so important. Thanks for your comments.