People First HR Services

Show staff respect when cutting jobs

Colleen Coates

Why is it that being respectful is frequently forgotten during one of the key phases of the employment relationship — at the time of job loss? Especially when you consider so many organizations have respect as one of their stated corporate values.

Typically when someone has job loss it’s about fit, that nebulous concept that really is about skills, style, work habits or interactions with others simply not aligning with what the organization wants at that point in time. Job loss often happens to great people who sometimes know themselves that the fit just isn’t right.

So why is it that the actions of some leaders at the time of job loss leave the employee receiving the news feeling that they have not been shown respect? According to Eileen Kirton, vice-president of Career Management Division at People First HR Services, she often hears from those people experiencing job loss that their strong emotions and hurt aren’t necessarily due to the job loss itself. Rather, it’s more about how the job loss was implemented and how the message was delivered. In situations like these, there is a clear disconnect between the stated corporate value of respect and how the organization is operating when it comes time to part ways with an employee.

Here are some examples of why job loss meetings are quite often so poorly handled:

  • There is a lack of training on how to conduct a proper job loss meeting and how to handle the logistics surrounding the employee’s exit.
  • The leader delivering the news is nervous, anxious and isn’t comfortable with their own emotions, which can sometimes lead people to put on a tough exterior.
  • There is a misconception that the meeting has to be curt, cold, and maybe even an carry undertone of anger.
  • There is a one-size-fits-all approach without consideration for individual circumstances.
  • Someone along the way has displayed by example “here’s how you do it” — and didn’t do a good job of it.
  • There are no professional supports in place to ensure the employee’s smooth transition from their current workplace into the next.
  • There is a lack of planning resulting in some activities happening that shouldn’t, such as:
  • The employee is paraded through the office and shown the door.
  • Job loss news is delivered on a poorly chosen day such as a major life event happening that day or a family member has just been hospitalized.
  • The employee’s company cellphone is immediately taken away and that has been their life line with their out-of-town family.

According to Kirton, if you find yourself needing to implement job loss, here are some things to consider:

It is OK to let your emotions show — while breaking down crying puts the focus on you and not the employee — if you are sad, nervous or anxious better to let that show. Genuine caring can help soften the blow for someone who realizes you didn’t take this lightly. Avoid the perception that it is just another day for you.

If you are feeling angry at the person for something they did or didn’t do, give yourself time to settle and deal with the anger before you conduct the job loss meeting. Only deliver the message when you are in a neutral state and can be calm and composed.

Consider giving the employee an option about how to collect their personal belongings — what would work best for them — collecting their belongings right away, coming back after hours or having their belongings delivered to them. A recent survey conducted by People First showed that:

  • 24 per cent would like to pack their belongings themselves.
  • 24 per cent would prefer to come back after hours on another day.
  • 12 per cent would like someone else to pack their things and have them delivered.
  • A whopping 40 per cent would really appreciate the opportunity to decide themselves.

Think about allowing people the option to say goodbye to their colleagues. Consider an employee who has worked in an organization for 20 years. They are very well liked, respected and are experiencing job loss because their skills have remained the same but the organization has grown and needs a different skill set. Allowing the employee to say goodbye and providing colleagues a chance to say goodbye is very respectful and both parties usually appreciate the opportunity. Don’t worry about what will be said in the workplace; experience shows that the majority of people handle themselves professionally. Instead, worry about what might be said on various social media platforms after the fact if the situation is handled poorly. A poorly handled termination can have a major negative impact on morale for close colleagues left behind and even more broadly across the organization.
Keep in mind that job loss is now a regular occurrence — especially in today’s business climate where organizations are continually changing, evolving or reinventing themselves. The stereotype that the exiting employee has shame and embarrassment or that they must have really done something wrong is a thing of the past. You can ensure that job loss at your organization avoids the possibility of someone feeling like they “were treated like a criminal” by following these simple suggestions.

To help you assess if you are taking the right approach, ask yourself “What if it was me?” If that doesn’t do it for you, consider “What if this was my child, my mom, my brother or my best friend?” How would you want to see them treated?

Job loss does not and should not carry the stigma it may have 20 years ago. Keep in mind that in the majority of cases these are good people and it’s just that the fit that isn’t right. On that point, don’t be like the leader who commented “I should have fired him five years ago!” Kirton says, “Shame on you — that person could have been five years into a new job where they would have been a great fit!”

You may be thinking that all of this is just the touchy-feely stuff — the people side of the business. However, smart organizations understand that treating people well when it’s time to part ways is a key component of your overall employment brand, judged by people both external and internal to your organization. Think about doing things in a way that preserves the dignity and respect for the employee, maintains your employment brand, and helps everyone move forward quickly.


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



Eileen Kirton, Vice-president, Career Management Division, People First HR Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 H1