You had to give notice to an employee? How to break the news to the workforce as gently as possible – and what you should do to prevent the rumor mill from boiling over.
Dismissing employees is a difficult task for entrepreneurs. A termination not only redefines the relationship between the boss and the affected employee; the news that a member is leaving the team also makes other employees wonder. Has the colleague done something wrong?? Or does the company have to lay off people because business is bad?? Are other jobs now at risk? Is it a termination without notice or a termination with notice?? Questions like these dominate the grapevine.
In small companies where people know each other well, termination is particularly tricky. If the terminated employee is popular within the team, colleagues’ motivation can plummet. With a smart approach, turmoil in the workforce can be kept to a minimum.
When do I inform the team that an employee has been terminated??
"As late as possible, but as early as necessary," recommends Dagmar Walker, lawyer and consultant for separation management. It depends very much on the circumstances of the termination: Do you part amicably? Or are the boss and employee parting on bad terms? Are both sides still negotiating because, for example, a termination agreement is at stake?? "If they’re still negotiating the terms of the departure and you’re already telling the team, that can hinder negotiations," says the separation expert. It therefore makes sense to wait until you have reached an agreement and, at best, agreed on how the termination should be communicated.
Many employees have a keen sense of whether a termination is in the air. Rumors can start quickly. But not every rumor has to be resolved directly. "You should weigh up: Is the floor rumor within limits or is it damaging?" says Walker. However, if the rumors trigger strong uncertainties in the team, bosses should intervene.
Meeting or e-mail – how do I inform the workforce??
A short meeting is recommended to inform the team of the personnel changes. If there is a regular team meeting, bosses can initially communicate the dismissal here. This not only has an appreciative effect on the terminated employee. It also gives his colleagues the opportunity to immediately clarify any questions that arise – first and foremost:
- Until when is the employee still with the company?
- Will the position be backfilled?
- If not: Who will take over his duties?
It happens that these questions arise in the team only after a few days, says lawyer Walker: "Therefore, managers should ask again in the following team meeting, if there are ambiguities."
In a company with a lot of shift work or field workers, it can make sense to also inform the staff in parallel by e-mail. So everyone gets the information first hand.
Should the terminated employee be present when the team is informed?
It depends on the individual case, says expert Walker: "Bosses should discuss with the employee how he or she wants to communicate the dismissal."You should agree on joint communication and agree on how the individual steps are to be taken. This also includes allowing the employee to decide for himself whether he wants to be present at the announcement and comment on it himself. "Some employees also want to inform colleagues themselves in advance," Walker says. The official announcement should then take place shortly afterwards.
What do I say to the team?
Many managers want to get the announcement of the dismissal over with as quickly as possible. But attorney Walker warns against approaching the matter hastily and without a plan. She recommends that a human resources manager or another manager always be consulted and that a strategy be developed together. Here, too, the boss and the employee should agree on a common approach in advance.
Bosses should use the announcement as an opportunity to express appreciation and thanks to the departing employee for the work he or she has done – even if they didn’t always agree on everything. The most important thing is that the words are authentic. Walker: "It is inappropriate for the manager to terminate the employee because of his poor performance, but praise him to the skies when saying goodbye."Bosses should therefore distinguish between the person as a human being and the role they had in the company. "Even if you weren’t happy with the performance, you shouldn’t badmouth the entire person," says the separation expert.
That’s because announcing a termination isn’t just about the departing person, it’s also about how they’re perceived by the team. "If bosses show that they know how to weigh things up and don’t dramatize the situation, they can really only score points with the other employees," says Walker. With the right communication, they can build trust and help appear confident even in difficult situations.
Should I state the reasons for termination?
According to Walker, young managers in particular often want to be very transparent when giving notice of termination. But they should not always give the reasons in detail. A general statement of reasons may be sufficient. "It can be useful to say: we have parted on mutual agreement. Without giving more detailed reasons," says the lawyer.
If there is no agreement between the employee and the company, bosses can certainly communicate openly: "We tried to reach an agreement, but unfortunately we didn’t succeed. Because of this a notice was given."
Under no circumstances should bosses place all the blame on the departing employee. What is clear, however, is that if the employee has embezzled money, lied to customers or made similar serious missteps, the company should not keep quiet about it, but work through the incidents together with the staff.
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