Setting the Termination Meeting

Remember to loop in HR before the termination meeting, keep the meeting short and restrict time for yourself after the meeting.

First of all, termination always needs to be done in person. If the message of a performance review sent through email is bad, a termination through email is a thousand times worse. This needs to be done face-to-face (or face-to-camera-to-face, if you’re not able to get together in person), and usually with your HR rep present. You may imagine you don’t need the hand-holding, but thinking this underscores how important it is to have the HR rep present—they’re there to act as a second witness to the exchange, and in many cases to answer questions about things you won’t know the answers to, like post-employment benefits, severance, equipment returns, and any questions around legal agreements (NDAs, non-disparagement clauses, and so on).

When setting up the meeting, take some time to think about the timing. Doing it on a Friday afternoon minimizes the disruption to the rest of your team, but means that the fired individual will probably spend the weekend in a bit of a funk until they can start the job search process on Monday. Conversely, doing it early in the morning and/or early in the week can set a really depressing tone for you, and everybody will be around to watch as that individual cleans out their desk. There’s really no one good answer, so consider the context (the team, the individual, your feelings, and HR’s suggestions) before making a decision.

The meeting itself should be pretty short (usually no more than 15 to 20 minutes), but the aftermath may require longer; this will be something you’ll want to check with the HR team before you schedule it. When the calendar invite goes out, keep the title bland and as subject-free as possible: “Ted/Joshua 1:1” or something similar. Telegraphing the termination ahead of time might feel like it would be a favor to the individual, so they can prepare themselves for the emotional shock, but in practice, it’s actually going to have a far more detrimental effect. This is going to be a pretty highly emotionally-charged event, and there’s a strong possibility they will be angry. That in turn means there is a chance (small or large, depending on their emotional maturity) that they could seek to cause some kind of damage on their way out: deleting databases, creating shadow accounts to have “back doors” to systems, posting illegal messages on company boards or website or public forums, you name it.

Denying an angry employee an opportunity to “have revenge” is the main reason why companies in the 2020s ask the employee to immediately gather their belongings and exit the building—and there’s a strong chance that you will be asked to shadow the employee while they do it, to ensure they don’t make any “extra appropriations” while they do. It sucks to do it, particularly because it often draws attention from their (now ex-)coworkers, but this is the world we live in.

Therefore, make sure you have cleared meetings from your calendar after the termination so you can follow through with what’s expected of you, and maybe a little bit longer after that, because you may very well require a quiet moment to yourself to rest and emotionally recharge—if your (now ex-)employee is angry, they will likely say any number of things designed to wound you, and some of them may catch you off-guard and hurt.

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