FIRING Employees Can Be Risky Task
by Kerri Smith, Business Reporter, The Denver Post
 
  Could the Chuck E. Cheese murders have been prevented by something as simple as different management techniques?

Maybe, says Bill Frank, president of CareerLab®, a national outplacement consulting firm headquartered in Lone Tree, Colorado, a Denver suburb. Every week, Frank helps lay off or fire employees for client companies. He says there is a wrong way and a right way to deal with workers—and that choosing the wrong way can trigger on-the-job violence. "Anger, threats and verbal abuse are never appropriate in the workplace. Disciplinary procedures should be reserved for quiet, one-on-one sessions," he explained.

Frank refused to comment on the Aurora rampage. But he did say yelling at workers will disrupt the workplace and fuel a confrontation later on. "Never yell at an employee. This, after all, is a business setting. This is not a dysfunctional family where people scream, yell and throw things at each other," he said.

Instead, employers should use written job descriptions, performance evaluations, disciplinary "action plans" and termination agreements to direct workers' behavior. "The key here is you don't want an employee to feel attacked, abused, or thrown out the door," Frank continued.

More than 355 U.S. corporations have hired CareerLab® to untangle personnel problems since the privately owned company was founded in 1978, including AT&T, Coors, Black & Decker, Cobe Laboratories, Honeywell, Kaiser Permanente and Travelers Insurance.

Employers should act quickly when an employee's performance falters, Frank advised.

Give him or her every opportunity to make behavioral changes. Explain the consequences if the employee's performance does not improve. "You want to let the person know their job is on the line if they don't lift their performance level," he said.

When employees know what is expected of them, they are forced to recognize that certain behaviors will result in a pink slip. It sounds silly, but this knowledge seems to make a major difference in the way workers react to a termination. "If all this has been explained up front, there is no surprise; if there is no surprise, there is essentially little chance of an explosive event," Frank said.

Once it becomes obvious that a particular employee is not working out, meet with his or her frontline supervisor and ask questions. Has this person been counseled on performance problems and had a chance to make corrections? Is there a financial, marital, health or other personal crisis in this person's life? Does he or she have a drug or alcohol problem? How does this person react to stressful news?

"Plan on spending as much time on their leaving the company as you did when they were hired," Frank said. "The back end is at least as important as the front end."

During the termination interview, don't hector the employee. In a firm, matter-of-fact voice, say "We've discussed these problems in the past and the performance criteria we agreed to have not been met." Couch the firing in bloodless terms: say "the company is now forced to take the action we planned in case the performance criteria were not met, and that is to end your employment" or something similar. "People who don't fit in know it," Frank added. "Often, during the termination meeting, they will express relief that the situation is ending."

The termination package should include an explanation of health care benefits, an offer of outplacement counseling and a severance check with vacation and other payouts.

Severance for an unsatisfactory employee? That's right: Employers should pay severance in almost all cases, Frank advised. "Severance is transition pay. You want to pay them to support their transition. This is fair, and to be blunt, you also don't want them to get enraged and come back in an episode of workplace violence." Typically, employers pay two weeks of severance for the first year of service and one week of severance for every year worked thereafter.

"Handouts listing Job Service offices, employment agencies or even an article on how to cope with job loss" also may help the employee recover instead of fester. Will such humble techniques work with the office nut who walks around muttering threats and reciting biblical prophecies? There are no guarantees, but Frank said he's been called in to referee hundreds of tricky terminations, and has yet to experience a violent reaction.

If you're worried, hire a security guard to sit in on the meeting. Ask the employee to turn in office keys and electronic access cards and have the guard stand by while he or she packs up belongings.

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