In Up In the Air, the movie where George Clooney fires people for a living, all of the audience's sympathy lies with the poor, unsuspecting employees who get the ax. But stop to think for a minute about what it's like to be the boss who actually has to do the firing (who doesn't hire an outplacement firm to do it for her).
Knowing you are taking away people's paychecks and grinding their careers to a halt is no walk in the park. You're severing relationships, and that causes stress and anxiety.
According to the Forbes.com layoff tracker, since November 2008, America's largest public companies have reported more than 690,000 layoffs. That's a lot of emotionally charged firing sessions.
"Bosses come to like and respect their employees and they assume that the news of being fired will devastate them," says Jean Palmer Heck, author of Tough Talks in Tough Times: What Bosses Need to Know to Deliver Bad News, Motivate Employees & Stay Sane. And oftentimes it is devastating, or at the very least a huge shock.
Bosses can make this unpleasant task a little easier by arming themselves with proper firing skills. Firing doesn't have to be a completely negative experience if you have good communication and people management skills. Here's what you need to know:
The CHECK System
Heck has developed a five-step process she calls the Tough Talks CHECK system, that is meant to help bosses keep their sanity and maintain a productive workplace while conducting layoffs. CHECK stands for:
1. Clarity: Bosses need to understand for themselves why they are letting a particular employee go. "Clarity is a process," cautions Heck. It comes before and after the tough talk.
2. How To: Deliver the message with the right words and integrity. As Heck says, "less is more and more is a mess."
Sandra Naiman, author and organizational consultant, concurs. "Don't apologize or tell the employee how badly you feel. He doesn't care and there is nothing you can say or do at this moment that will make the employee feel any better."
3. Emotions: Allow time for the receiver to process his emotions.
4. Comprehension: Make sure that the employee got the message. Get an acknowledgment that he understands the situation, but, says Heck, "Give the info and stop talking."
5. Kickoff: A firing affects the entire workplace. If the remaining employees don't get an explanation from you about what is going on, the rumors will fly, so be sure they get the 411 on the extent of the layoffs, why they're happening and what happens with the business (team, department) from here.
Climax Portable Machine Tools Softens the Blow
Climax Portable Machine Tools had to lay off 40 of its 150 employees last June. President and CEO Geoff Gilmore and VP of HR Joni George broke the mold on firing techniques and came up with some innovative ways to say goodbye.
For example, the laid-off employees were sent off with a kit that included letters of recommendation, a list of employment agencies, and high quality resume paper. Climax was even nice enough to offer their own in-house human resource services to fired employees that wanted help brushing up on their interviewing skills.
A Detour From the "Walk Of Shame"
Packing up your desk into a cardboard box and walking through the office while all the folks who still have jobs stare sympathetically adds insult to injury. To mitigate this stressful ritual Climax assigned each laid-off person a buddy, who helped him pack up and walked him out to his car.
Layoffs are a knock-out punch, especially in a brutal economy where job hunts can easily last a year. But by finding the right balance of professionalism and empathy you can soften the impact and allow both the manager and the employee to retain their self-respect.