Employee terminations, if not handled safely and with respect, pose significant risk for incidents of workplace violence. Let’s consider a scenario many human resources professionals can relate to.
You bring the individual into your office and they sit down. You close the door, walk past them to get to your desk, and sit down. You explain the situation and fill out the necessary paperwork. You thank them and apologize. Walking past the individual, you open the door for them and escort them off the premises.
Now consider this individual is the only source of income for their family. There are four children and one on the way. Their mother passed away yesterday.
Though this scenario is quite extreme, it is not too far from what I hear when presenting to human resource administrators on workplace violence prevention. Terminations are going to result in emotions. Even more than the obvious loss of job and income, there could be other significant impacts on the individual and their family from the news you just presented. You don’t know what all is going on in that person’s life.
Look at where and how the physical termination meetings take place. How can you make them safer? Returning to our scenario, what should we consider?
- You were alone. Always have a witness present for terminations.
- You positioned the individual between you and the exit. Ideally, aim for 2 exits in the room - one for the person being terminated and another for the person(s) conducting the termination.
- Were you aware of the items on your desk or in your office? Perhaps books, awards, letter opener, stapler, pens? In a violent physical encounter EVERYTHING becomes a potential weapon. So secure as many of the loose objects as you can.
Again, this example is extreme, but it helps illustrate the need to consciously consider your termination meeting procedures to minimize the risk of workplace violence.
Another step you can take is to train in conflict resolution. If you can see and understand some of the nonverbal indicators leading up to physical violence, you may be able to calm the situation before it becomes physical.
Yet it goes beyond these safety measures. Protecting your workplace against violence begins at the hire date. Shelly Smith, Director of Human Resources at Gibson, shared that it is about treating your employees with respect throughout their employment, building a culture of trust and open communication. Here are a few points Shelly stressed on incorporating respect into the entire process to help prevent potentially violent termination situations:
Are you having crucial conversations at the right point? If you avoid bringing up a performance issue to an employee, it is going to set the stage for tough terminations. Having those difficult conversations when the issue occurs will not only help to clearly outline your expectations, but it is also a way to respect the employee. Don’t wait until the issue has gotten so severe that it requires termination to first bring it up. Discussing the concern with the employee early on can potentially help remedy the situation.
Do you have a progressive discipline policy in place? This type of policy helps the employee understands that a performance issue exists and establishes an action plan on how it should be handled. There is a clear understanding of what will happen if the issue is not remedied. This provides the individual with a chance to respond, a chance to improve on the behavior, or correct the problem.
For the termination meeting itself, are you conducting this meeting with respect for the individual?
- Do not have more people present than need to be there. You do need a witness, but beyond the supervisor and the human resources representatives, no others are necessary.
- Be sure you are prepared for the meeting. Write a basic script and practice. Terminations are emotional – practicing what you are going to say can help keep you focused and keep the discussion on point.
- Keep it professional and objective. This is not a time to argue or debate. It is a time to focus on the issue.
What about after the meeting? Make sure someone is staying with the individual, offering to help them pack up, and walking them to their car. Show consideration for the individual through the entire process. Don’t just leave them on their own after the termination meeting.
Terminations are not fun. They are emotionally charged situations that, if not handled safely and with respect, pose significant risks for incidents of workplace violence.