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The nine-point guide to ‘de-hiring’

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Hugh JoslinThe well-documented downturn in the media industry has generated a level of sackings and redundancies, not experienced since the early ‘90s. Given the sustained period of growth, many managers have never had to fire people before and are making a hash of it, according Hugh Joslin, MD of recruitment consultancy, Media Contacts.

“It is bad enough being sacked or made redundant, but the situation is made far worse by unprofessional, inexperienced and insensitive managers,” said Joslin, who has issued a series of tips for manages on how to “de-hire” people with integrity and professionalism.

“Media Contacts has received numerous calls from distressed ex-employees who have been fired without tact or sensitivity. Many are deeply upset, hurt and disappointed by the treatment they have received from former bosses. One woman rang Media Contacts in tears after being brutally given the chop by a company she had served for more than two years.

“Sackings are understandable given the current economic climate. The prospect of downsizing and job cutting can be a daunting one, but there’s no excuse for poor management,” he said.

Ross Nicholson, head of the new media arm from Media Contacts (which has experienced the greatest fall out), stresses the importance of effective communications and management in such upsetting and PR conscious times. “When a company’s future is clearly under threat with redundancies looming, it is vital that an open communication structure is established. Regular updates of changes and there implications, need to be communicated to every employee every step of the way via presentations or formal notice. After all the least they deserve. Failure to do this inevitably starts the wheel of the rumour mill turning, making things so much worse for ex- employees trying to come to terms with their job loss and company image.

Having worked in recruitment through two previous recessions since the 1970s, Hugh Joslin’s advice has been welcomed by a number of clients placed in the awkward situation of handling redundancies.

His 10-point plan recommends:


1. Be prepared

Before the exit interview prepare yourself well by making a check list of points to discuss with the employee. You must also thoroughly examine the content of their contract ensuring you are aware of legal situations that may arise. Be aware of the difference between redundancy and sacking. In the latter case ensure that the correct disciplinary procedures have been conducted. It is good business practice to give one verbal warning and two written warnings before terminating employment.


2. Handle the situation with sensitivity

Firing someone is potentially one the most damaging things you can do to another person. Being labelled a failure at your job can seriously damage self-esteem, confidence and general well being. Any one with an once of compassion will find sacking someone a difficult task. It will probably be the hardest thing you will have to do as a manager. Remember to be sensitive and show respect.


3. Be professional

Remain calm and in control of the situation. You may well be faced with an employee who is visibly distressed or angry. Be prepared to deal with this. Show compassion, kindness and honesty. You should remember that employees have certain rights, particularly after two years’ continuous employment.


4. Get to the point

There is no easy way to sack someone. Get straight to the point but explain the reasons for your action. Don’t start by having a nice chat about the weather or the football. Start with something like ‘You can’t failed to have noticed the drop in sales and I’m afraid that I’ve got some bad news…’


5. You must talk about

Once you have explained the situation you must let them known exactly what right they have. Severance pay, assistance with job hunting, references, how long company perks will last and if they are convertible and if the employee is eligible for unemployment benefits. Also arrange a collection of company property such as keys to the office or company car. On termination employees are allowed a minimum of a week’s notice for every year of employment. Some companies allow employees to work their notice. Most pay money in lieu to prevent loss of commercially sensitive information or industrial sabotage. When staff work their notice it is a nice gesture to allow time off to attend interviews.


6. Timing

Though it may seem cynical, the best time to sack someone is on a Friday afternoon. Psychologists claim that people communicate better on a Friday. The language function of the brain is more active than on a Monday. Managers are therefore more likely to handle the situation with diplomacy and sympathy. It also causes less disruption to the office and effect on morale, if the news is broken to colleague at the end of the week, rather than on a Monday morning. Advise other staff of the situation and allay their fears that that may be next.


7. Avoid the bum’s rush

Though it is an unpleasant task don’t rush through it, just to get it over and done with. Once you have broken the bad news you must then give the employee some mental space, a minimum of 20 seconds. After they hear the words ‘let you go’ it is likely they will automatically go into shock and can no longer take in anything you say. Do not expect any questions at this stage. Talk about finishing projects and making arrangements for keeping in touch with co-workers. When discussions are coming to an end don’t stampede them through the door, outside will be many inquisitive faces. Give them time to collect their thoughts, calm down or put on a brave face.


8. How to end the meeting

Thank the person for their past efforts and ask them to see the company’ situation. Try to end the meeting on a positive note. Suggest that this as an opportunity to do something to which they are better suited to or will enjoy more. Suggest names of recruitment consultancies they should register with and of organisations that may be able to use their experience.


9. A happy alternative

On several occasions employers have approached Media Contacts (and no doubt other consultancies) to “headhunt” a particular member of staff who they would prefer left the company of their own volition. It’s a win-win situation and the person concerned will feel flattered for being headhunted.

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