Employee terminations are tough—especially on a small team. But the difficulty doesn’t stop there: It may be just as tough to manage the expectations and alleviate the concerns of your remaining workers in the days to come. Whether your team members breathe a collective sigh of relief, or feel like they’re losing a member of the family, there’s going to be a void, never mind rumors and worries and increased workloads. So what’s a business owner to do? Follow these steps to help cut down on gossip, shore up morale, and reinvigorate your employees as the tides turn.
Don’t be silent (but don’t blab either)
It may be tempting to remain quiet after firing an employee; you may feel like anything you say will do more harm than good. But your silence creates fertile ground where gossip can flourish. However uncomfortable it may feel, you’re usually better off giving your team a brief explanation regarding why their coworker was terminated than letting them speculate. Here are a few pointers:
- Be careful with your words. When you explain to your team why the employee was terminated, be deliberate about your word choice. If you have to omit details about the firing or be vague, explain to your employees that you can’t say more for legal reasons.
- Be choosy when you dole out the deets. Be prudent about how much information employees receive. A part-time delivery driver should be told fewer details than your right-hand person.
- Prevent office-wide freakout. Assuming the person was fired for cause and not for financial reasons, such as a layoff, reassure employees that their jobs are secure (if that is true).
- Squash smack talk. Nothing is more likely to get employees talking around the coffee maker than terminations for causes like discrimination, violence, harassment, or theft. Make sure to let your team know what their responsibilities are to prevent defamation of the terminated employee. Or in other words, no talking smack. Emphasize that their discretion is critical in maintaining the business’—and their—reputations.
- Keep an open door. Make sure your team members know they can come to you with questions or concerns. You might not be able to answer every question, but keeping your door open and remaining compassionate about and receptive to employee concerns will help ease their understandable fears. If your team works remotely, let them know the digital door is open, too, by encouraging questions by email, Slack, or Skype.
- Set the mood. Consider how the firing affects morale and productivity. If the terminated employee’s work will be reallocated to one or more people, it’s important to spend some time with each team member to ensure that they understand the need to shoulder part of the burden, and that you are receptive to working with them to minimize the stress. Nothing will make your team members feel overwhelmed or resentful more than taking their resilience for granted.
Communicate what will change
Aside from understanding what caused their coworker’s firing, your employees are ultimately going to want to know how the loss affects their workload. Plan in advance to answer these four questions:
- How will the terminated employee’s tasks be distributed?
- Who will be the point person for managing that person’s workload?
- Will they be replaced? If so, how soon?
- In the meantime, what changes about the day-to-day work?
Have an employee handbook? Now’s a good time to break it out. (If you don’t have an employee handbook, this might be a good opportunity to create one!) And if you had to terminate the employee for a reason that’s not clearly laid out in the handbook, now is a good time to refresh it.
- Was your employee fired for a reason specifically listed in your handbook? If that’s the case, make sure to note that when informing the rest of your team of the termination. The remaining team members will be relieved to know they’re not next on the chopping block.
- If you had to terminate your employee for something serious like harassment or discrimination, consider a training (or even an informal conversation) with your team to go over the ground rules.
After firing a member of a small team, it can be challenging to get back into the swing of things. From divvying up the workload to figuring out what went wrong, there are a lot of items you and your employees need to face when someone leaves. But if you encourage honesty and communication, you can help ensure a smooth transition, prevent future challenges, and help your team become more resilient than ever before.