Terminate an Employee & Immediately He's a Liability: Time for Change

Nancy Gray-Starkebaum

I was at HR West this past week, and had the opportunity to listen to Bill Strickland talk about his journey to change how we think about poverty. I was captivated during his speech, but my favorite quote was when he said, “Babies are born as assets, not liabilities”. It really made me think not only about poverty but also the workplace and more specifically, employee liability.

 

We hire people and talk about them as Human Assets. Yet when it comes to terminations we treat our previous assets as liabilities who must be walked out the door. One moment you’re trustworthy, and the next you can’t be trusted to pack up your own desk. It’s time to rethink how we manage the termination process.

 

We all know that employee engagement is key to increased productivity and better results. We also know the impact on a team that has had one of their own abruptly exit the organization.

 

How did we get here? Who decided that an employee faced with exiting the organization would immediately become a reckless, uncontrollable force of evil, never again to be trusted within the hallowed halls of your company? Why do we need security, outplacement services, a runner on standby to collect purses and keys? Someone to walk the employee out of the building? As an HR business partner and also a people manager, I’ve received resignation letters, laid off and fired employees. In layoff situations, we often provide working notice. However, in a termination or a resignation we often walk them out the door.

This says more about our own fears than it does about the person whose employment we’re terminating.

 

We need to flip this process on its head. If you want your employees to be brand ambassadors and leave great reviews on Glassdoor, quit treating them as liabilities when they leave.

 

Instead, have a conversation with them. Talk about fit and value. Don’t make their last conversation only about severance, make it about human decency. Give the employee a chance to create a leaving story and a few days to think it over. See if they want to give a two weeks’ notice first. Ask them if they want to address the team and how they want to say goodbye.

 

We need to put as much emphasis on off-boarding as we do on onboarding. A process that enables effective transactions, preserves dignity, and manages team engagement.

 

We’re all human, not liabilities.