Termination Should Never Come As A Surprise To An Employee

Sometimes things just don’t work out. Maybe the employee was put in a position he or she wasn’t ready or fully qualified for. Or maybe there were other issues that made the employee’s performance unacceptable. But whatever the reason (assuming the reason is legitimate), we all know sometimes employees need to be removed from a position. That may indeed involve termination from employment.

The concern I have is about those cases in which an employee is terminated but never sees it coming. When it’s over, their head is spinning and they are left to speculate, connect dots, and try to piece together what little they remember about the conversation they had with their supervisor when they were told they were being fired. One could argue that in some instances the employee¬†should have seen it coming, and that he or she needed to “get a clue”. Perhaps that is true, but in my experience, when the employee is absolutely stunned about the termination, the party that is really clueless is the employer.

Larger companies ordinarily don’t let this sort of thing happen. They have HR and legal departments that have developed a detailed protocol for dealing with these kinds of situations. They’re highly motivated as well: They don’t want to end up in litigation, which is very expensive and nowadays is more than a little prevalent. If a termination does end up in a lawsuit, they want to be able to show in court that they did everything possible to help the employee succeed, and that they had just cause in letting him or her go. In order to do this they put in place growth plans, reviews, formal and informal disciplinary warnings, and so on, all documented, carefully explained to and usually signed by the employee. But this process isn’t simply a way to keep an employer from taking a legal and financial hit, it really can be a way to help an employee succeed.

To the more clueless employers, this stuff is all irrelevant. They take a sink or swim approach to the employee’s performance. I know of a professional firm that doesn’t utilize employee reviews. Not even an annual one. The employee merely infers that they are doing acceptable work through two means: The first is that they may get a salary increase at year end. The second is that they still have a job.

To you employers that are unconcerned about the employees that you terminate because you assume that they’ll “land on their feet”, you might want to think again. It’s not uncommon for people (certainly in this economy) to go months and even years without finding new employment. They may have been confident, successful employees for the entirety of their careers, but a totally unforeseen firing can be a blow that is enormously difficult to overcome emotionally, professionally, and financially.

If you are unhappy with an employee’s performance, communicate it to them. Work with them. Help them. Be clear about your expectations and the consequences of not meeting those expectations. You owe that to them, and it’s in your best interests as well as theirs. But if you have an employee that thinks all is well one day, and the way they find out otherwise is not much more than because their key doesn’t fit the office door lock the next day, there has been an EPIC FAILURE of the first order…Yours.