Every leader has to let someone go eventually. It’s an unfortunate part of the job. It can be for performance reasons, behavioral issues, layoffs, downsizing, or market fit problems. Even tech giants like Amazon and Google go through this.
Some leaders feel that as soon as an employee is out the door, that person is no longer their problem. This is a mistake for two reasons. One, ex-employees are ambassadors to the external world. If you treat them poorly on the way out, your company will get a bad reputation. Two, everyone in the company will know how you treat people that you let go. They may be upset by your actions, and not as bought in to your company as a result.
The way you transition someone out of the company shows the world who you really are. Your job as a leader is to let someone go without taking away their respect or dignity.
When someone is terminated from their job, companies usually point toward government services, like their state’s career website and local job fairs. This isn’t helpful or useful for most people. Executives, managers, and human resources need to step up and do more.
To be a true leader, you need to give your laid off employee your contact details and offer to send references and make introductions. You should recommend good companies that are hiring and offer to help with interview prep. You can even introduce employees to the recruiting agencies your company uses.
99% of leaders never follow through on these promises or actually help employees when they call asking for introductions, interview prep, and negotiation advice. How you act after firing someone colors your reputation in the world. To be in the top 1% of leaders, you need to keep your word.
What should be included in an exit package for a terminated employee? At the absolute bare minimum, companies should provide 2 weeks of severance, cover health insurance for the rest of the month, and pay out any commission for closed deals. If you don’t do this, you’re essentially throwing an employee out on the street.
I believe severance packages should include more than the bare minimum, like:
If the employee is leaving soon instead of transitioning out over a few weeks, let them have access to email and slack so they can say goodbye to their friends. I don’t believe in suddenly shutting someone off from their communication tools. You can turn off Salesforce or Gong but let them have access to talk to their colleagues for the remainder of the day.
You might worry that an employee will cause problems by posting in general Slack channels. This is very unlikely to happen and if someone does send an angry message, it’s their own bad decision that will come back to bite them later. Nothing they say will really influence anyone else’s choices. On the same note, let the terminated employee send a goodbye email where they can control their narrative.
Be very specific with your employee when you’re letting them go. Talk about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and give them timeframes to work with. Conversely, you must do the opposite when communicating the decision to the rest of the company. You have to be very light on information to protect the impacted employees' privacy.
Don’t send an email to everyone on the team saying that they were fired for not hitting their number. Rather, send a simple message that says, “Employee is no longer with the company. We’re grateful for their contributions during their time here.” That’s all that’s needed.
Sometimes other employees are concerned by the news that a teammate has been fired. Take these individual conversations offline and keep them private. Frankly, you can’t say much anyways. Not because it’s a secret, but because you need to respect the ex-employee’s dignity by not airing their dirty laundry.
It’s not appropriate for the company to organize a goodbye party for a laid off or fired employee, but if other employees organize an event, I think it’s okay for the leader to go–if you’re invited. Frankly, it’s better for you to go to show support for someone even though you had to fire them.
Regardless of what precipitated the need to let someone go, you can always go out of your way to treat them with respect. They’re going through a hard time and you have the skills and resources to help them land on their feet. When I’m asked, what’s a sign of a great leader, I say it's the number of people that they’ve had to let go over the years who still speak to them.